A back-and-forth game between the Vegas Golden Knights and Carolina Hurricanes has come and gone. Erik Haula made a triumphant return to Vegas and left with a 6-5 shootout win. A ton of interesting things happened before, during, and Saturday evening's game and you can find the biggest storylines below.
Erik Haula's Return:
Unceremoniously traded due to salary cap constraints and a pending UFA status, Haula rightfully wanted to assert himself during his first game back in the T-Mobile Arena. Rightfully so, the Golden Knights played a touching tribute for their former center, which drew a strong reaction from the home crowd. "Erik Haula" chants rained over the ensuing shift.
His cheers quickly turned to boos, when he sliced through the Golden Knights defense and beat Marc-Andre Fleury five-hole on a beautiful one-on-one move. He'd go on to finish the game with a goal and an assist in the winning effort. This could be the turning point he needs, working his way back from injury.
"He had really good to start the season, he was lights out. Then the injury really set him back quite a bit and now he’s just trying to get his feet under him again. It was nice tonight to see him obviously pot that one back here where he had a lot of success."
- Rod Brind'amour, Carolina Hurricanes Coach
Neither Goaltender was Sharp:
With Fleury in the Vegas net, the Carolina Hurricanes countered with James Reimer, a beleaguered back-up with his fourth team in 10 seasons. It was a rough night for Reimer, who has put together a decent season thus far (2.61 GAA, .917 SV%), as he gave up five goals for just the second time this season.
Fleury: 29 saves on 34 shots (.853 SV%)
Reimer: 33 saves on 38 shots (.868 SV%)
Both Reimer and Fleury allowed a few softies. The Hurricanes' first goal came on a spin-around wrist shot from the blue line by Teuvo Teravainen. His shot found a hole and beat Fleury late in the first, to give the Canes some hope.
Just a goal prior, Reimer was undressed by Jon Merrill, of all players. Merrill, a predominantly defensive-defenseman, sliced through the defense and beat Reimer one-on-one with a nifty move in tight. Both goalies misplayed pucks around their net and simply botched standard glove saves. Fleury was bailed out by the posts multiple times in OT.
Both eventually had big moments, Fleury moreso with the posts' help. Reimer made a huge stop in overtime on Shea Theodore on a 2-on-1. Theodore's one-time shot was huge and Reimer largely stopped it, but had to dive backwards to stop it from trickling across the goal. He also made a crucial stop on a big Alex Tuch slapshot, that was destined to beat him to the glove.
Summary: Fleury was overmatched in the shootout by the Hurricanes flashiness (Andrei Svechnikov) and clutch ability (Justin Williams). Reimer stepped up when he needed to. It was a strange night for the tendies. Malcolm Subban remains the shootout king in Vegas.
Shea Theodore is DeBoer's Guy:
Yesterday, I detailed the new kid in town, Zac Whitecloud and how good he and Merrill have been playing since his recall. Despite having another strong game, the rookie lost shifts late, ceding his spot to Theodore. With a one-goal lead, Pete DeBoer leaned heavily on the pair of Merrill and Theodore.
Even as the Hurricanes tied the game, DeBoer elected to keep riding the electric Theodore. This is not surprising, or a new development for DeBoer, who leaned heavily on guys like Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns in San Jose. You have high-profile talent, you use it.
"I thought Shea was probably our best player tonight, he was excellent."
- Pete DeBoer
Whitecloud is a surprisingly well adjusted 23-year-old and shouldn't be shook up by the late benching. Strategy is greater than feelings in the NHL and Whitecloud knows he's a rookie, just happy to be with the big club. His lone down moment came when he inadvertently high-sticked Erik Haula, drawing blood and a four-minute doubleminor.
If the Hurricanes game is any indication, Theodore is DeBoer's guy and rightfully so. He's great in both ends and has game-breaking ability. Expect to see the Nate Schmidt-Theodore pair reemerge in the future ala DeBoer's situational use of the Karlsson-Burns duo. He has made his appreciation of the two defensemen very clear.
Long Road Trips Matter:
Following a long road trip, split up by a mandatory bye week (and All-Star break), the Golden Knights had the odds stacked against them. Despite the Vegas push at the sports books, the home team came in as an underdog, something rare for the Golden Knights.
Turns out, the books know what they're talking about. After speaking with a long-time line-maker, the sentiment was delivered: the first home game is typically a loss. While the Golden Knights played a great game, the wise guys were right, the road trip played a factor.
A long home stand awaits the Golden Knights following two days off and a Tuesday night tilt in Minnesota. Once they're able to reset and get back into routine, you'll see them build on the play that earned them a 7-2 win a few nights back in Florida.
It was a crazy game for both sides. Haula's homecoming went well for his new mates and the fans got an exciting game, with bonus hockey. While it didn't go as the home team would have hoped, it was a spirited affair in which the Golden Knights got an ever-important point. They're very much in the playoff picture as this season gets closer and closer to the end of the road.
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