For a while, the Vegas Golden Knights looked like a team that was going to need some assistance from NV Energy — and not just for the power play.
Vegas was running cold offensively and the Chicago Blackhawks were looking to pick up Tuesday where the New York Rangers left off Sunday and keep the Knights off the scoresheet.
But Reilly Smith and Deryk Engelland scored midway through the second period and Marc-Andre Fleury returned from an extended absence with a strong effort in goal as the Knights downed the Blackhawks 5-1 at T-Mobile Arena.
“It was a real good solid game,” coach Gerard Gallant said after his team snapped a two-game losing streak. “There were no passengers tonight. Everyone played well and everything worked.”
The 18,319 in attendance were glad to see Fleury back. He last played on Nov. 23 and was away from the team for personal reasons for 10 days after his father died in Montreal. And after some early rust, Fleury settled in and kept the Blackhawks at bay until his mates could break through at the other end against Corey Crawford.
“There was a little (rust) at first,” Fleury said. “But I felt more comfortable as the game went on. My timing got better and it felt good to be out there again.”
In addition to Fleury being back in the lineup, the Knights played Valentin Zykov and got defenseman Nick Holden back on the ice after being a healthy scratch for the last six games.
With Cody Eakin and Cody Glass both injured, Zykov was called up from the Knights’ AHL affiliate in Chicago. Zykov, who had just two assists in seven games with Vegas before he was suspended for 20 games after testing positive for a banned substance in October, skated on the third line with Paul Stastny and Alex Tuch.
Zykov said he still doesn’t know what he tested positive for.
“It’s been a long time, a couple of months from now,” Zykov said prior to the game Tuesday. “I don’t want to think about it. I just want to move forward.
“I’m glad to be back and I just want to play hockey right now.”
Gallant said he was starting to get concerned whether his team would score again. But the Knights stayed with it and kept pressuring the Chicago defense with a strong forecheck and taking advantage of the open ice provided them.
Smith got the first one with a nifty piece of stickhandling at the side of the net and slipped it past Crawford for his team-leading 13th goal the season. Engelland, who had not scored this season, ripped a shot from inside the right circle over Crawford’s shoulder to make it 2-0 nearly four minutes after Smith’s tally.
Late in the period with Tuch off for slashing, Smith set up William Karlsson off a 2-on-1 and Karlsson buried it for a shorthanded goal and a 3-0 lead with just 44 seconds left until intermission.
Max Pacioretty and Ryan Reaves added third-period goals and Fleury took care of the rest. He was denied the shutout as Dominik Kubalik scored with 24 seconds left on a late power play.
“Sorry we didn’t get the donuts,” Fleury said.