This is what Pete DeBoer envisioned when he put his top two defensemen together.
It’s like the perfect cheat code in “Mike Tyson’s Punch Out,” if there was such a thing. You give Little Mac an opening, he’s going to make Iron Mike pay.
Yes, the purpose of putting Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo together was part of a grand plan to get the Vegas Golden Knights going offensively. That move was probably the third bullet point on a laundry list of items to wake up a team that was in need of production.
Two games in, and the 27-7 pairing has come as advertised. Pietrangelo had a goal and an assist for his first multi-point game since Jan. 20, and Theodore had a two-assist game for the first time this season.
“The way they like to change things up around here, I think it’s good for the chemistry,” Theodore said. “Being with him, he’s such a good player.”
The Golden Knights escaped with a 3-2 victory Saturday against the Anaheim Ducks. William Karlsson scored his second goal of the game with 1:37 left in overtime for the win. Theodore’s second assist came on the game-winner.
And while that goal will go down as the important tally in the House of Mouse, the first two stole the show.
Vegas controlled the game for the majority of the first period. Even after Rickard Rakell scored the game’s first goal 10:09 into the first, the ice seemed tilted in the Golden Knights’ favor.
Part of that momentum was generated by the fourth line. Normally a group DeBoer starts games with, the trio of William Carrier, Keegan Kolesar and Ryan Reaves set the tone as they occasionally do. The Golden Knights’ opening shift lasted 55 seconds, with 50 of it from the offensive zone.
On their sixth shift of the period, the fourth line was in the offensive zone with Theodore and Pietrangelo.
The play starts with Kolesar and Reaves keeping the forecheck alive without the puck. Reaves forces a turnover at center ice and dumps the puck in, with Kolesar giving chase.
Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler’s pass to Rakell along the endboards is intercepted by Pietrangelo, to which he gathers it in the trapezoid below the goal line.
There are a total of nine skaters in the frame when Pietrangelo has the puck. The only player open is Theodore, who hasn’t even crossed the blue line yet. Yes, Pietrangelo found Theodore perfectly in this crowd.
As soon as Theodore receives the puck, it’s a quick pass back to Pietrangelo. With Anaheim already scrambling, Pietrangelo fires a laser with Carrier screening John Gibson perfectly in front.
“[Theodore’s] obviously got great vision, we all know that. We’ve watched that really grow over the last year. I don’t think that goes in unless Will’s in front of the net, screening the goalie,” Pietrangelo said. “We’re finding each other when we need to find each other, but we’re also shooting when we need to. If we can put pressure on teams with the way we can move the puck, it’s certainly something we need as a team.”
On the second goal, a neutral zone breakdown aided in this, but it’s why the Golden Knights gave $61.6 million to Pietrangelo.
Give credit to Jonathan Marchessault, who Pietrangelo and Karlsson said was calling for the puck. Jakob Silfverberg dumped the puck to Pietrangelo with Karlsson on his tail.
Pietrangelo said one of two things were going to happen here: Either he hit Karlsson on the tape and he walks in on Gibson, or nothing materializes and the Golden Knights set up shop in the offensive zone.
It’s a picturesque pass from just above the goal line nearly 150 feet away. Karlsson beat three Ducks coming from the neutral zone, channeled his inner Bobby Orr and scored while falling down.
“With the way we play with our speed, we’re always looking for those opportunities, especially if it’s a neutral zone breakdown like that was,” Pietrangelo said. “I don’t think I make that play unless they’re calling for it. Great finish by him, that’s for sure.”
It’s only two games, but it’s hard not to like what Pietrangelo and Theodore have done together.
Against the Colorado Avalanche last Monday, the pairing was 13-16 in shot attempts while on the ice. Keep in mind, a majority of that 19:27 they played at 5-on-5 was defending Colorado’s top line with Nathan MacKinnon and co.
On Saturday, the Golden Knights out-attempted the Ducks 24-18 with Pietrangelo and Theodore together, a 9-8 edge in scoring chances (8-4 through the first two periods), and 3-5 in high-danger chances.
Anaheim had eight high-danger opportunities in the third period, so keep that in mind.
Through two periods, it was stellar. The Golden Knights eased up in the third and allowed Anaheim to tie it, and eventually get a point.
Having Theodore and Pietrangelo on the ice at the same time unlocks a lot of possibilities offensively, and enhances Pietrangelo’s full capability when he has the puck. That first goal was the perfect example of that.
“Obviously two elite offensive-thinking defensemen,” DeBoer said. “When you’re defending against two guys like that, you have to respect both of their ability to make plays and or beat you with their feet. You get a little more room, and I think that was the case on that goal. They created some room for themselves just with what they’re able to do.”
Who knows what’s going to happen when Brayden McNabb returns from long-term injured reserve? The possibility is there for the McNabb-Pietrangelo pairing to return, but right now might not be that time.
Two games in with this new lineup; two wins. It ain’t broke, so don’t fix it.