Two years ago, the Golden Knights spent the new year in first place in the NHL’s Pacific Division. They would go on to win the Western Conference and make it to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season.
Could it be a case of deja vu?
Tuesday, Vegas closed out 2019 with a 5-2 win over Anaheim to remain atop the Pacific with 50 points (22-15-6). They’ll start the new decade in first place when they host Philadelphia Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena. It was another big day for goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury as he passed Curtis Joseph for sixth place on the NHL’s career wins list with 455.
“We’re a real good hockey team,” Knights coach Gerard Gallant said. “We don’t always play good, but we keep battling and we find a way.
I’d like our record to be a little better but I’m please with where we’re at.”
It was a wild opening 20 minutes with both teams scoring goals off goalmouth scrambles. Anaheim’s Korbinian Holzer gave the Ducks a 1-0 lead after the Knights failed to clear the puck out of Fleury’s crease.
And after Mark Stone tied it 1-1 with a shot from the slot following Max Pacioretty’s pressure to force a turnover, the Knights went ahead 2-1 with 20 seconds left in the period as the Ducks failed to clear the crease and Alex Tuch was credited with the go-ahead goal on the power play after Josh Mason inadvertently knocked the puck into his own net. The Knights outshot Anaheim 23-5 for the period.
It was a far different case in the second as Vegas didn’t register its first shot of the period until 7:53 remained. But of the 10 shots on goal the Knights had in the middle frame, Reilly Smith’s backhand with 2:05 left beat John Gibson and made it 3-1.
Anaheim’s defense hung Gibson out to dry for much of the game and it has a lot to do with the Ducks’ being near the bottom of the division.
It only got worse in the third period as Mason hooked Jonathan Marchessault on a breakaway with 9:05 remaining and Marchessault was awarded a penalty shot. He deked Gibson to the ice and put it up over him to make it 4-1.
It was the sixth penalty shot in team history and Marchessault has taken three of the six. He has been successful on two of the three attempts.
The Ducks closed within 4-2 with under five minutes remaining but Marchessault scored into an empty net with 1:54 to play for his second of the day to seal the win.
“We looked pretty good for 60 minutes,” he said. “They had a couple of bounces but overall we were good. We’re unselfish. We’re looking for each other and we’re playing with a lot more confidence.”
The Knights have spent the better part of the first half of the 2019-20 season searching for their identity. And with the calendar set to turn the page to a new year and a new decade, Vegas may have found it.
“We’re relentless,” Marchessault said. “We weren’t great in October and November, but we’ve been good in December. We’re in first place and we worked hard to get to there. And we’re working hard to stay there.”
WHAT’S IN A GT VIP ACCOUNT? Amazing content, analysis, stats, and a digital paper for only 6 cents a day.