Resurgent Knights aiming for road win vs. sinking Canucks
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The Vegas Golden Knights appear to have recovered from their Stanley Cup finals hangover — in a big way.
Following a slow start, Vegas (13-12-1, 27 points) has posted four straight wins heading into Thursday’s game in Vancouver against the Canucks (11-13-3, 25 points). The Golden Knights’ win streak has contrasted with the fact they lost four of their first five games.
“We had some ups and downs through the season, but since then it just seems like we’ve been playing more our style, a fast-paced, in-your-face type of game,” goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury told NHL.com. “And, it’s been paying off for us.”
As a result, Golden Knights might defy many pundits’ view that they would falter in their second National Hockey League season after reaching the 2017-18 finals as an expansion team. Vegas is now battling for a playoff spot despite the absence of injured key offseason free agent signing Paul Stastny, who is sidelined with an undisclosed lower-body injury.
The rebound has coincided with Fleury’s return from injury. The goaltender, who celebrated his 34th birthday Wednesday, was named the NHL’s latest second star of the week after posting consecutive shutouts against Calgary and San Jose. He also backstopped the Golden Knights to an 8-3 win Tuesday in Chicago, where he kept his shutout streak ended at 150:54 as the Vegas goal total established a new single-game club record.
“My teammates have been helping a lot,” Fleury said. “The forwards are coming back and cutting those cross-ice passes. The defense lets me see the puck and they take the rebounds away. Just little things have been making a difference defensively.”
The Golden Knights have also capitalized on the improved play of winger Max Pacioretty, who appears to be adjusting to life in Las Vegas following his trade from the Montreal Canadiens in September. Pacioretty has posted six goals and three assists in the past nine games. He is thriving on a line with Alex Tuch, who has 14 points in his past 11 contests after missing eight with an undisclosed injury early in the season.
“I love playing with Tuch and (Eakin). They make life easy on me,” Pacioretty said. “They both can skate really well. Tuch’s a bigger guy who can protect pucks and create time and space for us. Our line’s been going really well but we want to build off that and get even better.”
The Canucks have lost nine of their past 10 games. They are hoping that young snipers Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser can build more chemistry after shining together at times in a 2-1 home loss to Los Angeles on Tuesday. Boeser played his first game after missing 11 contests with a groin injury.
The 21-year-old Burnsville, Minn., native is optimistic that he can resume the offensive flair he displayed before his injury and last season, when he led the team in scoring as a rookie with 60 points.
“Before (the injury), I wasn’t moving as well laterally and it’s exciting for me,” Boeser told reporters. “I haven’t felt this good, hips down, for quite a while and I’m moving better. It’s only up from here — I’m not looking at the negatives.”
Canucks coach Travis Green, understandably, was “a little rusty” after his long layoff. But Boeser still helped Vancouver display considerable confidence and control on the power play as he and Pettersson collaborated on creating offense.
Vancouver’s power play actually performed well during Boeser’s absence, but center Bo Horvat envisions that it can do even better — on a consistent basis — with him back.
“Obviously, (Pettersson) has established himself on the half wall pretty well, and guys respect his one-timer,” Horvat told reporters. “To have Brock on the other side and Eagle (Alex Edler) feeding both of them, (opponents) are going to have to pick and choose which guy they’re going to cover now. It’s going to be huge for our group.”