VGK ends homestand undefeated after out-dueling Lightning
The shift that has followed the Vegas Golden Knights out of the NHL All-Star Break and into the second half of the season has the team riding the wave of a five-game win streak.
Most recently, Vegas upended Tampa Bay, 5-4, Saturday, Feb. 18 from the T-Mobile Arena. The win means a 5-0 start to the month of February for the Knights after eight of their last 10 games prior to the all-star break.
“I think we’re more resilient,” center Jonathan Marchessault said. “We play a full 60 minutes instead of [playing] sloppy in certain areas of our game [...] Our effort has been better and our support has been better as a unit of five out there.”
As it stands, Vegas sits atop the Pacific Division with a 34-18-4 overall record with 72 points. Currently, the Los Angeles Kings and Seattle Kraken lurk just behind the division leader with 71 and 70 points respectively.
The win against the Lightning means the end of this undefeated three-game homestand for the Knights. Next up, the team will return to the road for a one-game pit stop road trip in Chicago against the Blackhawks Tuesday, Feb. 21. Puck drop is set for 5:30 p.m.
This most recent matchup against Tampa Bay pitted two of the eight teams in the league with 70 points or more. It didn’t take long for these two teams to get things going as they combined for six goals during a 10-plus minute stretch in the first period.
The first shot-on-goal didn’t occur until nearly five minutes into the save when the Lightning sent a puck in the direction of VGK goalie Adin Hill. They lit the lamp on the second attempt.
“It’s nice when your team bounces back [quickly],” Hill said. “After both goals we scored right away there. That thought process going through your head is ‘It’s a tie game, keep going.’”
Center Brett Howden tied the game on Vegas’ first SOG seven seconds after falling behind. That went down as Howden’s third goal of the season.
Tampa Bay would retake the lead on a power play goal from center Steven Stamkos after center Nicolas Roy was penalized for hooking. Roy would later make up for it, cashing in on an empty-net goal as insurance late in regulation.
Marchessault was responsible for tying the game the second time as he netted his 16th goal of the season. That ended a 13-game goalless drought for him with that score.
“It’s probably the longest I’ve [gone without one],” he said. “We just have to move on, it’s onto the next game. We’re going to enjoy it until midnight tonight and we’re going to try and get better tomorrow.”
Marchessault’s 13-game goalless drought was the longest since going 16 games without a goal in 2016.
That goal was the first of two on a two-goal night for Marchessault. His second goal was challenged by Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, arguing for high-sticking. After a lengthy review, the call was confirmed and Marchessault was awarded his second goal of the night.
“[The confidence] actually goes up the longer they review it,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said. “At first it looks like, ‘Okay, this one is going to be coming back,’ because they challenged it so [quickly].”
Marchessault missed on a chance at a hat-trick when he tripped on a near shot attempt in the third period with the Knights up one.
Vegas recorded eight assists on the night with six tallying at least one. Right-wing Reilly Smith and defenseman Shea Theodore posted two-assist nights. The latter also scored a goal during that high-scoring first period.
While it won’t show up on the stat sheet, center Michael Amadio made a great play to keep the play alive in the offensive side which included completing a spinning pass attempt on the way to Theodore’s goal.
That goal gave the Knights the lead for the first and last time of the game.
“I like the job Mike’s done and the two guys working with him,” Cassidy said. “They have to pull those younger guys up and get them comfortable in their game. We’ve done a good job of that with our veteran leaders. “That was part of the hope with some of the younger guys – Michael’s not that young but going up in the lineup [center Paul] Cotter is doing that and we need that [...] That’s a lot of the reason why we’re starting to win games now, players are getting a little more responsibility in their roles and they’re open to it and they’re responding well.”
Entering play, Tampa Bay ranked fifth in the league in goals per contest with a 3.5-mark while Vegas ranked 15th with a 3.2 standing. At the conclusion of the first period, VGK led the visitors, 4-2.
The Lightning added a late goal to pull within a goal before the final horn. Hill finished with a .833 save percentage to go along with 24 saves.
“I thought we had a great game,” he said. “Some games are going to start like that. Games are going to be high-scoring in this league. Started off a little while but we found our game and I thought we played a really good 60 minutes.”