LAS VEGAS — The stats say the last thing the Vegas Golden Knights want to do when they host the Washington Capitals on Saturday night is fall behind 2-0 in the first period.
That’s something Gerard Gallant’s squad has done in each of their last two games against Florida and NHL points leader Tampa Bay. And each time Vegas (22-9-2) rallied to win, defeating the Panthers, 5-2, on Sunday and then the Lightning, 4-3, on a Shea Thoedore goal with 2.3 seconds remaining on Tuesday night.
But the Metropolitan Division leading Capitals (22-12-2) are almost perfect when leading games after the first or second period. Washington is now 14-0-2 when it leads after the first period, and 15-0-2 when it leads after two periods despite blowing a 1-0 third period lead Friday night in an eventual 3-2 overtime loss at Arizona.
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“I’ll take it,” Gallant said of his team’s recent poor starts. “If we’re going to lose 2-0 in the first period and come back and win the game, no issues from me.”
Then Gallant got serious.
“No, every team wants to start off good. We’ve battled back the last couple of times after falling behind 2-0, and that doesn’t happen a whole lot in our league. Again, we won those games so it’s not a big issue. Any time you can back from two goals down shows a lot of character and work ethic in your team.”
Vegas defenseman Nate Schmidt, who played four seasons with Washington before joining the Golden Knights in the expansion draft, knows from being on other side how key it will be for his team to get off to a good start this time around.
“Very important,” Schmidt said. “When I used to play with these guys and we’d get leads it was almost a foregone conclusion that we were going to take it home. It’s tough to come back, especially because they have a lot of firepower. We’ve got to make sure we start off on the right foot.”
The Golden Knights have had three days to come down off the emotional high of their comeback win over Tampa Bay. But Schmidt said he would have preferred to come right back and play another game the next night.
“I’m going to flip that on you,” Schmidt said. “I think it’s easier to play right away right after a game like that. You’re feeling the momentum, you’re feeling the mojo.”
Washington, which had a four-game winning streak snapped in Arizona, will end a three-game road trip with its first ever visit to T-Mobile Arena where the Golden Knights possess a 14-2-1 record, tied with Tampa Bay, the New York Rangers and the Capitals for most home wins in the NHL.
The Capitals led 2-1 at Arizona until Christian Fisher punched in a loose puck at the crease at 18:59 with Coyotes goalie Scott Wedgewood off for an extra attacker, then lost in overtime when rookie Clayton Keller scored on a rebound of his own shot with 27 seconds remaining.
“They stayed with it and (were) able to get a late goal and capitalized in overtime,” Washington coach Barry Trotz said. “I look at it as we had it, we’ve just got to close it out.”
Trotz needs one more victory to tie Lindy Ruff (736) for fifth place all-time in in NHL coaching wins.