It was a few small moments early in the game. If you blinked, you might have missed it. But Vegas Golden Knights head coach Pete DeBoer buttressed his team at an important time in Saturday’s overtime win.
Just 1:16 into the first period Saturday the Golden Knights found themselves down 1-0 to a team that DeBoer said had given them “an old-fashioned ass-kicking” just two days prior.
It was not a good start.
Lesser teams would fold. Players would get down, or be tempted to think “here we go again”. Instead Keegan Kolesar fought Dan Renouf six seconds after the goal was scored. Kolesar appeared to win the bout in a split-decision, and that lifted some heads.
Then DeBoer took over a short time later.
After an icing call exactly two minutes into the game, DeBoer pulled his mask down and began yelling at the referees, perhaps indicating he felt there was a missed penalty on a previous play or even arguing the icing call. His beet red face was wrinkled in disgust. Then he held up a single finger as if he were counting one or saying “that’s one” or “one time”. By then the mask was back on so lips were not read, but it appeared he was telling the officials he was keeping track of something and was tired of it already.
DeBoer didn’t field any questions after the game about it. No one really seemed to notice, but the anger and emotion was clear. A good coach knows when to step into the breach and take or generate the heat. That’s exactly what DeBoer did here.
Then, after the icing faceoff DeBoer made another small switch that paid big, immediate dividends. DeBoer called Alex Tuch off the ice after he dumped the puck in, replacing him with Ryan Reaves. Reaves was now out with Will Carrier and Tomas Nosek while Kolesar was in the penalty box. They delivered an impressive shift, dominating possession and generating a few dangerous scoring chances.
The curse was broken.
While Vegas wouldn’t score for another 13 minutes yet, DeBoer quickly grabbed his team and yanked it up by the bootstraps. Yelling at the referees is a time-honored misdirection. Sometimes a coach yells at the ref because he can’t yell at the players. Sometimes because he’s just angry. Sometimes there’s a legitimate gripe.
What Pete DeBoer did here was stir the emotional pot and direct attention away from giving up that early goal. It didn’t last long and barely warranted a mention on the broadcast, but the results showed immediately on the ice afterwards.
“The goal (today) was to play the way we’re capable, execute the way we’re capable,” DeBoer said. “To be honest if we had lost in OT I would have been really happy with the response anyway.”
The Golden Knights did respond, getting better as the game went along and dominating the third period while out-shooting the Avalanche 10-4.
“Thanks to believers for sticking with us. I know there were some doubters out there after the last game but I knew our group would respond with a real good effort.”
One other decision was made by DeBoer before the game even started – starting Marc-Andre Fleury for the second straight game.
“It was an easy decision. He’s carried us here the last month-and-a-half, he deserved to start the two most important games of the year so far. It was a pretty easy decision.”
Fleury responded by making 22 saves and playing solid the entire game, keeping the Golden Knights in it until they were able to win it on Max Pacioretty’s overtime goal.
That’s why they pay coaches the big bucks. Pete DeBoer earned his check Saturday.