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GOLDEN GRADES: What rust? Knights roll in win over Kings

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Nicolas Hague, vegas Golden Knights defenseman

Not bad for not playing for eight days.

If these were normal times, it’d be apropros to say the Vegas Golden Knights should take a week off every other week if they’re going to play this well.

It wasn’t a perfect game, but the Golden Knights’ 5-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Friday was a reminder in the talent discrepancy between the Interstate-15 rivals.

It was also a reminder that this team, when playing with the speed it showed, can be as dangerous as any team in the National Hockey League.

To the grades.

OFFENSE: A+

The Golden Knights aren’t usually the team to have fewer attempts than their opponent and still win convincingly. Friday was that rare Bigfoot moment.

The Kings outattempted Vegas 45-42, but the Golden Knights made the most with the chances they got. They peppered Jonathan Quick early and often, which led to a 3-0 lead midway through the first period. Quick was pulled after allowing four goals on 10 shots.

“I felt we had great energy [Friday morning],” said coach Pete DeBoer. “Reports from coaches were the guys were really dialed in and really working hard. You’re always surprised you’re up 5-0 in this league and that’s a rarity, but I wasn’t surprised with our energy to start.”

It wasn’t just the fact Vegas was scoring goals, but rather how they scored. Nicolas Hague (much more on him later) scored 50 seconds into the game on a bouncing puck to him at the left circle. Two Kings and Mark Stone screnned Quick and didn’t see Hague’s wrister beat him far side.

Stone’s goal at 9:32 was a lucky bounce off Quick’s body, but it was the action leading up to it that stood out. Vegas gathered the loose puck after Marc-Andre Fleury made a save, and were off to the races. Max Pacioretty made a grown-man move along the right side to spring a 4-on-2, and he found Stone for the goal.

Then 1:08 later, it was Year 1 magic for the Misfit Line.

Let it be known it wasn’t the prettiest goal, but this is where William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith are at their best. When they can get downhill and use their speed to create scoring chances, there aren’t many teams that can counter this. DeBoer has talked about going for the dirty goals. Marchessault does that after cleaning up Karlsson’s five-hole attempt.

For the first period alone, it gets five stars.

The top six dominated this game, combining for a 22-5 edge in scoring chances, with the top line generating a ridiculous 14-1. It was an off night for the bottom six, but it was one of those rare nights where the Golden Knights didn’t need to roll four lines to be great.

DEFENSE: A-

It was likely a fun celebration last night at the Glass-Hague-Coghlan house, starting with the lanky Vegas defenseman who has a “fishing rod for a stick,” as Zach Whitecloud once termed it.

Hague recorded his first three-point night in the NHL, collecting two assists along with his first goal of the season. Hague and Whitecloud were called to second-pair duty due to the absences of Brayden McNabb and Alex Pietrangelo.

“For me, it’s just getting confident with defending,” Hague said. “I don’t ever feel intimidated or in awe of other teams’ top lines. I feel I can defend a lot better this year, which is something I’ve tried to work on. That was a focus for me and I feel a lot better in that area.”

The top four defensemen — along with Shea Theodore and Alec Martinez — eclipsed 20 minutes and were plus players. Possession wise, they were fine (12-12 for Hague and Whitecloud, 18-16 for Martinez and Theodore), but Hague and Whitecloud were on the ice for eight scoring chances while only allowing three. It was Hague’s best game as a pro, and it wasn’t just the points. Also, Whitecloud continues to bust his ass defensively, and he’s becoming my favorite player to watch.

Friday also the NHL debut for Dylan Coghlan and season debut for Nick Holden. The 22-year-old Coghlan played 13:15 in his first Vegas game with the 33-year-old Holden. The duo allowed 13 attempts while only on the ice for seven. Much like the offense, however, the Golden Knights didn’t need their third pair to contribute as heavily.

Once Pietrangelo and McNabb return, the full power of this fully-armed defense will raise some intrigue.

GOALTENDING: A

Marc-Andre Fleury continues to do what is asked of him.

While the understanding is there for fans to clamor for Fleury to be the full-time netminder eight games in and after a 4-0-0 start, expectations need to be tempered.

Fleury has played well against the Ducks, Coyotes twice, and now the Kings. They’re not the worldbeaters of this top-heavy West Division. Fleury is going to need some games against the Avalanche, Blues, and even the Wild before going further.

That being said, Fleury was spectacular. He kept his shutout streak going until 119:59 before Austin Wagner broke through in the third period. Dustin Brown added a power-play goal late, but with thanks to Anze Kopitar’s shot somehow ricocheting off the near post behind Fleury for the juicy rebound.

Fleury didn’t see a lot of dangerous action (15 low-danger chances to 10 from medium to high), but was still great.

It’s still too early to call the battle of the goaltenders, but there’s no denying Fleury has been great. Now, it’s a matter of seeing him against teams that are higher on the pecking order.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B

The Golden Knights scored a power-play goal! Rejoice in the fact that it is capable for the Knights of Vegas to score with the man advantage.

That’s two games in a row where Vegas has scored a power-play goal after going 2-for-20 in the first six games. The first two power plays were the best the Golden Knights looked to this point. Glass talked about simplifying the special teams after a long layoff, and that seemed to work. No extra passes, no over-complicating things. Just Glass on the doorstep to finish the rebound.

 

Vegas let up on the man advantage while up 5-0, so that’s fair. Keep this consistency up and they’ll get an ‘A’ in no time.

The puck movement was superb, and it’s the kind of power play we’ve come to expect for the Golden Knights. You’d still like to see this kind of action when Pietrangelo quarterbacks the first unit, but baby steps, or something like that.

Danny Webster is the newest reporter and columnist for Vegas Hockey Now. Follow him on Twitter @DannyWebster21.

Welcome to your new home for Vegas Golden Knights breaking news, analysis and opinion. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and don't forget to subscribe to VHN+ for all of our members-only content the entire Vegas Hockey Now crew plus an ad-free browsing experience.

Danny Webster has covered the Vegas Golden Knights since their inaugural season. A graduate from the Greenspun School of Journalism and Media Studies at UNLV, Danny has written about the Golden Knights for NHL.com and SB Nation. He is now the lead reporter covering this young franchise for Vegas Hockey Now. Follow him on Twitter @DannyWebster21.

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