Controversy eventually gave way to celebration for the Vegas Golden Knights, who had to work a lot harder than expected for the result everyone assumed they would get Thursday.
The Knights, despite firing a team-record 54 shots, ran into a hot goaltender at T-Mobile Arena and it took Jonathan Marchessault scoring in the fifth round of the shootout for the Knights to defeat the Ottawa Senators 3-2.
“It’s two points. We’ll take it,” said forward Reilly Smith, who scored the first goal and has six in his first eight games.
Thursday started on a down note for the franchise as forward Valentin Zykov was suspended 20 games by the NHL for violation of its performance enhancing substances policy. Brandon Pirri took Zykov’s place on the third line playing with the Codys — Eakin and Glass.
“We found out yesterday,” team president George McPhee said prior to the game about Zykov’s situation. “We seemed to be the last to know. He took supplements and they did not come from us.”
Zykov reportedly had been taking the supplements, which he claims were over the counter, for the last four years. In seven games with the Golden Knights this season, Zykov had no goals and two assists.
The news on Zykov overshadowed three storylines for Thursday. One was Mark Stone facing his former team. Two was Erik Brannstrom, the former first-round pick of the Knights who was traded to Ottawa for Stone last February, playing against the team which drafted him. Finally, there was Marc-Andre Fleury, not Oscar Dansk, starting in goal for Vegas against the Senators, who came into the game with a 1-4 record.
It turns out it may have been smart to start him. Fleury had to make several big plays, including thwarting a first-period breakaway by Chris Tierney and a wild late second-period sequence that saw Anthony Duclair hit the post, Fleury losing both his stick and his catching glove, then sprawling to make two stops during an Ottawa power play to keep it a 2-1 game for the Knights.
“We’ve got to clean up our defensive game,” Knights coach Gerard Gallant said. “We’re giving up way too many chances.”
The Senators tied it 2-2 4:25 into the third period. They then relied on Anders Nilsson to keep them in it. He was nothing short of brilliant, making big save after big save. He finished with 52 stops.
Fleury was also stellar, stopping 37 of the 39 shots he faced. He came up huge in the overtime, sticking out his right pad to deny Connor Brown at the left post.
“I was following the puck and I saw him and I was able to get over and make the save,” Fleury said.
The Senators clogged the neutral zone and played a tight defensive game. The Knights didn’t respond as well as Gallant would’ve liked.
“When that happens, you’ve got to get your legs moving, dump it in and get behind the defense,” said Gallant, who was able to get a win in what was the 500th game of his NHL coaching career. “We didn’t do a good job of that.”
The Knights (5-3), who had to go to OT and a shootout for the first time this season, head east to Pittsburgh Saturday. Fleury who has played all but one period this season and will no doubt be well received by the Penguins fans, said he’s not sure if he’ll play all three games on the road trip.
“We’’ll take it a game at a time and see how it goes,” Fleury said of the trip, which goes from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia Monday, then on to Chicago Tuesday. “It’s always great to go back (to Pittsburgh). So I’m looking forward to it.”