Malcolm Subban smiled coyly when he was asked about his shootout streak. Vegas’ goalie had stopped all 18 shootout attempts in his career before he gave one up Friday. At first it looked like he was going to try and play and cool, as if he didn’t know. Then he relented.
“I mean, yeah, I was aware of it,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s a good league, I’m surprised it went that long to be honest.”
Subban stopped two of the three shots in the shootout and 35 of 36 shots in regulation and overtime in what was one of the finest outings of his career, helping the Golden Knights defeat the Arizona Coyotes 2-1 at T-Mobile Arena.
“I thought (Subban) was solid, locked in all night long and obviously in the shootout he’s very good at those breakaways in shootouts,” coach Gerard Gallant said.
Friday was Subban’s eighth start of the season, and the seventh game he finished (he left the first one because of injury). In the previous seven, he was terrific against the Maple Leafs in early November, solid against the Jets the week before that as well as against the Predators on Wednesday, and had a save percentage of .857 or worse in his other four.
The Golden Knights need him now with starter Marc-Andre Fleury away from the team, and he’s delivered now twice in a row. Only one other time in his career — Oct. 21, 2017 against St. Louis — did he face as many shots as he did Wednesday and allow one goal or fewer.
“Any time I get the chance to step in there I want to give our team the best chance to win,” Subban said.
The goalie Subban faced was just as good. Darcy Kuemper, who is one of the league’s top goalies, was on his game Friday in turning away 37 of Vegas’ shots. According to Evolving-Hockey, Subban and Kuemper combined to stop 3.58 goals above expected, one of the top goaltending duels of the season.
Vegas only beat him on a power-play deflection. Nicolas Hague fired the puck at the net and Alex Tuch came from the corner to tip it past Kuemper for the Golden Knights’ only true goal of the game. Vegas knew that might have been the only way to beat their 6-foot, 5-inch opponent.
“He’s a big guy. A lot of pucks, even if he’s not going to see them they’re going to hit him,” Tuch said. “He’s a good goalie and that’s what you’ve got to do: a lot of shots on net and a lot of bodies in front.
To his point, Jonathan Marchessault had a shot on the power play that Kuemper saved with his glove that Tuch couldn’t believe didn’t go in the net. Tuch and Kuemper played together with the Minnesota Wild and Tuch joked with him that he didn’t save that on purpose.
“I told him there’s no chance you saw that and he goes, ‘Nope, just hit my glove.’” Tuch said.
What the Golden Knights have been able to do the last two outings is win a tight game. Prior to Wednesday’s 4-3 overtime win in Nashville, the Golden Knights had played 10 one-goal games and had won just three of them, which included two by shootout. Of those games, the Golden Knights had a two-goal in three of them and erased a two-goal lead in another.
Turn those winnable losses into wins and the Golden Knights’ record is a lot better than it is. But they didn’t win, and dug themselves into a hole they’re fighting to climb out of. Wins like Wednesday’s miracle comeback was a start. Wins like Friday’s may need to become more of the norm, where Vegas grinds out a win against a team high in the standings.
“It’s not about trying to get five or six goals every night, it’s about trying to win right now,” Gallant said. “I think the last couple games is a real good step forward and now we’ll go back to New York tonight, fly out there and have three battles down there.”