Las Vegas, NV- No story captivated the hockey world quite like the championship-minded Vegas Golden Knights in 2018. The expansion team won the Pacific Division and the Western Conference in their first year of existence. After hanging losing to Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals in the Stanley Cup Finals, the team hung their banners and stumbled out of the gate, sitting outside a playoff berth in the first few months. They started to right the ship in December before a pair of home overtime losses to Los Angeles and Montreal around Christmas time slowed their momentum. Since then, the Knights have returned to championship form. Vegas claimed five consecutive wins after Christmas, three coming on the road. On Sunday afternoon, the Knights returned to the night club they call home at T-Mobile Arena to begin a three game homestand, starting with the New Jersey Devils.
New Jersey, also looking to ride recent momentum, capitalized on a painfully sluggish Knights start. Five minutes in, the Devils turned the puck up ice looking to score. Nico Hischier tried to pass across. A Knight knocked the pass down, but directly onto Hischier’s stick, who wired his champagne goal by Knights back up Malcolm Subban for a lead. Four minutes later, Ben Lovejoy took a Pavel Zacha pass from behind the net around the crease. He drew Subban out and spun Cody Eakin around for a 2-0 Devils lead. “They came out and played a perfect road-game”, mused Knight’s coach Gerard Gallant. “They played real quick, they played fast. Everything I talk about, being first on pucks, being competitive, they definitely did that.”
Vegas rebounded when Ryan Reaves stole the puck at New Jersey’s blue line and fired five-hole and Devils’ goalie Keith Kinkaid. The puck trickled through and Reaves posted a new career high with eight goals on the season. New Jersey had one goal waived off late, but otherwise failed to crack Malcolm Subban again.
Vegas controlled the second period, with the help of replay. The Knights outshot New Jersey 11-7 and minimized the quality of NJ’s chances. Just after the mid-point of the frame, Brayden McNabb unleashed a wrister from the left circle and beat Kinkaid. The official immediately blew the play dead on account of goaltender interference, with Ryan Carpenter screening Kinkaid. While Carpenter’s butt was in Kinkaid’s face, the Knight’s center never actually made contact with the goalie. Gallant challenged the call, and the replay officials reversed the call. McNabb was rewarded with his first goal of the season and a tie game. Four minutes later, New Jersey took a penalty and Subban hit the bench for an extra attacker. Shea Theodore found open space along the half-boards and fired the puck on net. Max Pacioretty, recently returned from injury and father to a one-day-old baby, tipped it into the twine for the 3-2 lead.
“I guess I can look back to my days, and the funnest game I ever played was after having a child” said Gallant. “Max came out there and he looked happy. He played hard, he played fun. I think he was tired, but I think he went out there and had a great game because he was so pumped up about the baby.”
If Vegas controlled the second, New Jersey entirely dominated the third period. The Devils outshot Vegas 20-6 and won the game’s shot counter 38-28. But with the game in doubt, Malcolm Subban played his best game of the year. The 25 year-old back-up played his first home game since October 4th and survived a flurry of late Devils chances, including a pair of penalties taken by Ryan Reaves. The enforcer first took a tripping minor with 3:22 left in the game, the first minor of the day for Vegas. New Jersey peppered Subban but got nothing through. Reaves emerged from the box and grabbed the puck. He flung it to the opposite end of the ice for an empty netter. He instead cleared the top netting at the opposite end, forcing a delay of game penalty with 1:02 left.
Reaves quipped after the game, “That might be the last time Coach ever puts me out there with the net empty. Gallant responded “Definitely not. I didn’t put him on, he was in the penalty box. We love Reaver, he got the game going for us. He scored that big goal to get the game going when we were pretty flat. Sometimes you make mistakes, and he just missed the top corner, so he tried his best.”
Subban stood tall in Reaves’ absence, and the Knights secured a needed 3-2 win to start the homestand.
“We were the better team for most of the game, so I feel like we deserve this one” said Subban after his second win of the season.
New Jersey drops to 16-18-7 on the year, and is still missing Taylor Hall. They’re eleven points back of a playoff spot and only one spot from last in the Metropolitan Division. They’ll try to reverse course in their last road game of their current four game trip against the Buffalo Sabers on Tuesday night. Puck drops at the First Niagara Center at 7 pm ET.
Vegas improves to 26-15-4, good for second in the Pacific. They’re in a points tie with Calgary for the top spot at 56, but two games back in the loss column. With Pacioretty back, Reaves and McNabb contributing, the Stastny line finally together, and Subban stealing a win late, the Knights appear in prime position for another run at the Pacific Title. Only note of concern is Reilly Smith. The analytical darling was injured on a shift in the third, played one more after, and did not return. He will be re-evaluated by the Knight’s training staff tomorrow.
The Knights continue their homestand by hosting the New York Rangers at T-Mobile Arena at 10 pm ET/7 pm PT.