Reilly Smith felt the Golden Knights didn’t need an exhibition game and were ready to jump into the NHL postseason. They, after all, had been practicing together for weeks following months of inactivity out of COVID-19 concerns.
Smith showed he was certainly ready, scoring short-handed and on the power play in the first period to lead the Golden Knights to a 4-1 victory over the Arizona Coyotes at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
“When we have all our lines going, and I think we did tonight, it’s really tough on teams,” Smith said.
Smith gave the Golden Knights a two-goal cushion, which held until the third period when Arizona’s Taylor Hall scored on the power play. But Alex Tuch scored a few minutes later to restore the two-goal lead for Vegas, and Nick Cousins added an empty-netter to cap a three-point night.
Smith’s prowess on special teams helped buoy what was an otherwise pedestrian night possession-wise for Vegas at even-strength. Normally a calling card of the team, 5-on-5 play let the Golden Knights down as they were out-chanced by Arizona, 35-28.
That 44.4% share of shot attempts was worse than all but eight regular season games before the season was paused.
But Vegas still led in expected goals at even-strength, suggesting that even though the quantity of shots was lower, the quality was higher. Tuch’s goal was the only one in the game at even-strength.
Vegas also had six power-play opportunities, scoring once, and had 11 power-play shots. Those nearly 12 minutes with the extra man helped limit Arizona’s offense.
Tuch’s line as a whole had a strong showing, with two points each from Tuch and Nicolas Roy and three from Cousins.
“I thought they were great,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “I think for sure our depth was a difference-maker tonight and it’s got to be going forward.”
In net, Marc-Andre Fleury was where he needed to be, surrendering just the one power-play goal on 23 shots. He saw the majority of that action in the third period, when the Coyotes mustered 12 shots on the frame, including their goal.
In the first, Fleury was barely on the screen as Arizona went more than 17 minutes between its second and third shots of the game. That pleased DeBoer, who said he’d be happy if the Vegas goalie doesn’t have to stand on his head to steal a win.
“You’re never wishing for more action on your goalie,” DeBoer said. “We’re hoping that’s the kind of games our goalies see going forward, where they’re not seeing a ton of rubber, but they have to be sharp when called upon. Hopefully that’s exactly the type of game he’ll get going forward.”
The Golden Knights will gladly pocket tonight’s results, looking like the better team for most of the game. There are always things to nitpick if you look hard enough, but for the first game since early March, the Golden Knights get a passing grade and that much more confidence going into the round-robin on Monday, a game with far higher stakes than tonight’s.
“It didn’t take too long for our guys to find their legs and played very solid,” Fleury said. “They have a lot of speed on that team but we matched it, I thought, no problem.”