This condensed NHL season has a baseball feel.
Any time a team can earn a three- or four-game sweep on the diamond, that’s worthy of praise. It’s a testament to a team’s depth and overall talent.
That’s going to happen plenty this season, and while the Vegas Golden Knights should be defeating the inferior teams placed in front of them, it’s still worthy of note that they swept the Los Angeles Kings this weekend. It’s also commendable that the Golden Knights went from not playing for eight days to finding ways to win.
The Golden Knights defeated the Kings 4-3 on Super Bowl Sunday at T-Mobile Arena, improving to 7-1-1.
“Beating any team in this league twice is going to be tough,” said coach Pete DeBoer. “You see that when you look around the league. There’s no doubt we made it tougher on ourselves tonight. You’ve got to win all kinds of different ways in this season. The bottom line is we’re winning in a league that’s hard to do so.”
Let’s hand out some grades.
Much like Friday’s 5-2 win, the Golden Knights erupted for three goals in the opening 20 minutes. They needed those goals given Los Angeles scoring twice on their first two shots, courtesy of Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe.
Vegas put on a passing clinic in the first period. The Golden Knights’ goals were highlighted by the chemistry and allurement from these lines. Look no further than Reilly Smith’s tying goal with this spinning pass from Jonathan Marchessault.
Did Smith call for such a pass?
“Must’ve been dumb luck,” Smith said. “Sometimes it seems like he’s got eyes in the back of his head.”
Then came Zach Whitecloud’s goal less than a minute after Kempe’s tally. This centering pass from Cody Glass is 1C-type stuff.
This was by far Glass’ best game this season. Not only was his line very good (9-2 in attempts), but he held his own in some instances against Kopitar and played the 200-foot game the Golden Knights have clamored for.
Chandler Stephenson scored twice. His first goal was set up by this stellar pass from Mark Stone.
Talk about eyes in the back of one’s head, this pass is a clear case of the top line’s chemistry. Only Stone can have the wherewithal to know the speedy Stephenson would streak down center ice and create the dangerous chance.
The offense hit a wall in the second period. The Max Pacioretty – Stephenson – Stone line generated four attempts (one goal) and no attempts allowed in the first. The top line allowed a whopping eight attempts, gave up a goal, and did not have a single attempt in the middle frame.
The once-open ice for Vegas was taken away. The Kings did a much better job closing passing lanes and limiting scoring chances; the Golden Knights had only three shots on goal in the final 15:19 of the second period.
Being Super Bowl Sunday, I doubt anyone really wanted to play this game. I’d like to think many teams would rather take the day off and prepare to gorge on all the chicken fingers and sandwiches they could muster. Nevertheless, it was a much better effort from the Kings on Sunday. It’s just another reminder Vegas is that much better.
Also, a shoutout to the fourth line for generating 12 attempts and only allowing four. Sometimes you don’t expect something until you see the numbers. The meat-grinder line had a solid evening.
Outside of L.A.’s two goals on two shots, the defense settled in nicely.
Particularly speaking, the third pair of Nick Holden and Dylan Coghlan were much better. After being on the ice for 13 attempts allowed Friday, the veteran-rookie combo were on the ice for eight attempts while allowing only four.
Coghlan also had a prime opportunity to score his first NHL goal, if not for one of many terrific saves Petersen made in the final 40 minutes.
Nic Hague and Whitecloud remain steady presences on the second pair. Whitecloud’s goal was obviously the highlight mark, but the more they play together and buckle down in the defensive zone, the more enjoyable it is to watch them play.
Alec Martinez and Shea Theodore were fine (13-15 in attempts), but nothing stood out from their second game as the top pair. Martinez led all Golden Knights skaters in ice time at 25:19, with 5:18 of that coming on the penalty kill. All in all, not a bad night for the blue line.
The good news: Robin Lehner won for the first time in three starts.
The bad news: The two goals on two shots are a horrible look.
Hindsight: Give credit to Kopitar on his goal. It’s a wicked shot that the L.A. captain placed perfectly. Kempe’s goal may have been aided by Hague’s stick, but Lehner still covered enough ground short side to where that puck shouldn’t have snuck through the pads.
Other than that, stopping 29 of the next 30 shots is a solid rebound. He settled in and made some key stops. The third goal wasn’t his fault. Jaret Anderson-Dolan snuck through the slot unseen and by the time Vegas converged on the young forward, Lehner already lost it top shelf.
This had the makings of going downhill fast, but Lehner recovered well and did enough in the final 40 minutes to get the win. He stopped 14 of 15 high-danger chances while expecting 1.52 goals against more than he actually allowed. Take out those first two goals, and it would’ve been a banner night for the Panda.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
Three straight games with a power-play goal. Surely it’s Groundhog Day.
Stephenson’s winner 1:38 into the frame wasn’t by design. He meant to center it to Alex Tuch but Kale Clague’s stick was in the right place at the right time. The puck catches the Kings’ defenseman’s stick and sneaks past Petersen five-hole.
“Lucky goal, but I’ll take it,” Stephenson said.
While the power play finds its legs, the penalty kill was superb in killing all four penalties. Vegas has killed 11 of its last 13 penalties (counting the garbage-time power-play goal from Dustin Brown on Friday), which hovers around its season average of 83.9 percent.
Next up for the Golden Knights is another two-game set at home against the Anaheim Ducks. Anaheim has the league’s worst power play (6.7 percent), so the PK is likely salivating at this.
Danny Webster is the newest reporter and columnist at Vegas Hockey Now. Follow him on Twitter @DannyWebster21.