Marc-Andre Fleury stopping a Tyler Toffoli breakaway (USA Today Sports)
It is indeed a happy new year for the Vegas Golden Knights. With a 2-0 home victory over the Los Angeles Kings, the Golden Knights are officially undefeated in 2019. Brandon Pirri scored the lone goal on Kings goalie Jack Campbell at 3:43 of the third period, on the power play. Pirri’s power play goal was Vegas’ first in their last four games. Alex Tuch would later add an empty-net goal, with Campbell pulled, to seal the win. Los Angeles had been hot as of late, making this win bigger than it may have seemed. As always, there were some good things and some bad things, so let’s take a deeper look into exactly how Vegas came away with the win.
GOOD: Vegas held the LA Kings to a total of 17 shots on goal.
Normally an area of scrutiny, the Vegas team defense was firing on all cylinders in this one. All five players were responsible in the defensive zone, each time the Kings attempted to set up some offense. When the Kings were able to get to the net and create some pressure, the Vegas defensemen (and forwards up high) did a great job of collapsing, averting danger, and swiftly moving the puck up ice.
BAD: The Power Play continued to look flat.
Last season, the Vegas Golden Knights had a reputation of being a high-scoring, high-event team. The team constantly preaches that they need to play fast to win. When the Golden Knights get on the power play, they seem to slow down and stagnate, far too often. Coming into the game, the message from Head Coach Gerard Gallant was that they needed to get more pucks on net, while on the power play. Vegas certainly made an effort to get more pucks on net, but they also continued to have trouble with zone entries, setting up, and threatening on the power play. Although Pirri ended up with a PPG at the end of the night, the Golden Knights’ power play never had the look of a dangerous unit.
GOOD: Vegas only took two penalties, limiting LA’s power play opportunities.
Both Vegas penalties came in the second period. Paul Stastny took an interference penalty in the offensive zone 57 seconds into the period. While Jonathan Marchessault had the puck, Stastny stepped in front of Kings’ defenseman Drew Doughty and was penalized for the pick. With 3:28 left in the second, Nick Holden was caught by the speed of former Golden Knight Brendan Leipsic and was flagged for holding. Neither penalty resulted in a goal, but the way this game flowed, a power play felt like the only way Los Angeles would be able to score.
BAD: Jack Campbell was doing a John Gibson (Anaheim Goalie) impression.
Campbell stood on his head against the Golden Knights, playing in place of starter Jonathan Quick. Campbell is fresh off the IR and looked like he hasn’t missed a beat. Campbell held Vegas scoreless through two periods, after having faced a game’s worth of shots to that point (27 shots on goal). The Golden Knights would go on to add a whopping 21 shots in the third, only beating Campbell once. He has a remarkable game and deserved a better result, for his efforts.
GOOD: Gerard Gallant got creative with line combinations late in the game.
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (USA Today Sports)
Late in the game, Gallant moved players around to highlight their strengths and preserve the win. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, revered as a great defensive player and their top penalty killer, was used in Pirri’s place in order to shut down the Kings and seal the win. Pirri has been making huge strides in the last few seasons defensively and I do not join in on the “Pirri can’t play defense” narrative, but using a guy as good as Bellemare for his defense is smart and savvy. Following the game, Gallant said "Bellemare is a specialty in that situation. If we're down a goal, Pirri will be on the ice. When we're up a goal, you put four defensive guys out there and Bellemare and those type of players deserve to be on the ice at that time of the game." Good on Gallant for making that move.
REALLY GOOD: Brandon Pirri scored again, making it impossible to send him to Chicago.
Brandon Pirri (USA Today Sports)
Brandon Pirri was called up when Max Pacioretty hit the IR, for the second time this season. Pacioretty was signed to be the second line left winger and was expected to play a lot with Stastny. Injuries to both me have limited those opportunities, but Pirri has stepped in and lit the second line on fire. Similar to the way Cody Eakin provided a spark when Erik Haula went out with a knee injury, Pirri has jump-started the second line for Vegas. Since Pirri’s call up, Stastny has compiled four goals and three assists. The chemistry between Pirri, Stastny, and Alex Tuch has been undeniable. Pirri himself has amassed six goals and three assists in those seven games. Production like that should not be taken for granted or toyed with. When Pacioretty returns, it isn’t far fetched to think that line two should remain the same, with Stastny centering Pirri and Tuch, riding their current success and white-hot wave of momentum.
The Golden Knights will be in town for the next two days, with no games. The team will practice both Wednesday and Thursday at City National Arena, before heading on the road, for a game in Anaheim on Friday. Anaheim remains in the playoff picture and Friday’s game represents an important two points. It remains to be seen if defenseman Colin Miller (injury), Pacioretty (injury), or Valentin Zykov (waiver-claim, visa issues) will be active on Friday. With the win against LA. The Golden Knights improved to 24-15-4, good for a tie for first in the Pacific Division, with the Calgary Flames. Fleury's shutout was his league-leading sixth of the season.
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