Max Pacioretty has never had more than two game-winning overtime goals in a season.
Put a condensed season in front of him and he’s hockey’s version of Jerry West.
The Vegas Golden Knights survived a late rally from the San Jose Sharks on Friday with a 5-4 overtime victory at SAP Center. Pacioretty’s one-timer 1:25 into the extra frame snuck through Devan Dubnyk’s left pad and propelled the Golden Knights to their fifth consecutive win.
“I’ve had a lot of looks like that as of late, and I’ve gotten a lot of wood on them and they haven’t gone in,” Pacioretty said.
He got just enough on Friday.
This was Pacioretty’s third overtime winner of the season, and second this week. COVID has obviously thrown off the time-space continuum, but Pacioretty scored the game-winner on Monday in that 5-4 rally against the Minnesota Wild at home.
Overtime has been a thrill ride for the Golden Knights, to say the least. Vegas is 10-12 in the past two seasons in games decided by overtime. In that context, the Golden Knights were 8-4 during the inaugural season.
Safe to say it’s been an element lacking in the Golden Knights’ win-loss ledger. That’s not the case in 2021.
The Golden Knights are 4-0 when the game is decided by the game-winning goal, three of them coming in the last four games; twice from Pacioretty, and once from William Karlsson on Feb. 27 against the Anaheim Ducks.
Pacioretty also nearly gave away the Annexation of Puerto Rico on Jan. 16, scoring seven seconds into overtime for a 2-1 win against Anaheim at home.
“I think our group, 3-on-3, they have a good feel for hanging on to the puck, the possession element of being able to not force things and out-change the other team,” said Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer. “They do a great job of creating motion and having patience in order to wait for a hole and have an opportunity.”
DeBoer said it best; puck possession. The Golden Knights allowed one shot attempt from the Sharks in overtime; Timo Meier’s attempt 18 seconds off a Shea Theodore turnover. After that, the Sharks held possession for 16 seconds before Pacioretty forced a turnover at the defensive blue line.
The common theme on Pacioretty’s game-winners has been Mark Stone. The Golden Knights’ captain was the primary assist man on Pacioretty’s first two clinchers. Whether it be setting up a one-timer or a tap-in in front, Stone knows where to find Pacioretty.
Saturday, Stone still got an assist on the winner, but not the primary tally. Stone dumped it to Alex Pietrangelo right before taking a shot from Evander Kane. Stone already gives up the puck before Kane commits to the check.
At that point, Logan Couture and Brent Burns are forced to key in on Pietrangelo without knowing Pacioretty has crept toward his office, the right circle.
“I kind of fanned on that one, and that one ends up going in,” Pacioretty said. “It’s the way the game goes, I guess.”
Pacioretty was on pace for a career-year in 2020; he reached the 30-goal plateau for the first time with the Golden Knights and was one point (66) from tying his career-high.
Now, in this shortened campaign, there’s plausibility to believe Pacioretty could reach 30 goals yet again. His team-high 12 goals have him on pace for a 33-goal campaign, which would be his seventh in the NHL.
There are 11 players in the league with at least 12 goals, and Pacioretty is one of them. Catching Auston Matthews for the Rocket Richard might be out of the question.
Being clutch like this during a playoff run, however, is another story.
“I think you’ve got to have the mindset to attack on the 3-on-3,” Pacioretty said. “If you don’t take any chances, you’re not going to create much and end up at your own end.”