LAS VEGAS — Well whaddya know? The Golden Knights won a hockey game on their home ice.
Improbable as it sounds, it’s true. Vegas defeated Arizona 5-2 Wednesday night at T-Mobile Arena, snapping a six-game-in-regulation home losing streak and post their first 60-minute win since Nov. 23 when they beat Ottawa 4-1. In between was the 2-1 overtime win over Philadelphia Dec. 9.
Frankly, it was getting embarrassing. The Knights are nearly unbeatable when they leave town, with an impressive 14-2-1 road record. At home, they were a sub-.500 team before a four-goal third period broke a 1-1 tie and they finally prevailed in “The Fortress” and got back to even for the season at 9-9.
So, how did they manage to do it?
Simple. They quit trying to be fancy and kept things, well, simple. They played direct hockey, got the puck behind the Arizona defense, won the puck battles, got traffic in front of the Coyotes’ net and put 34 shots on goal.
They also got significant contributions from their top line. Mark Stone had two goals and frankly, should have had four or five given how many good looks he had throughout the contest. Chandler Stephenson had a pair of assists and even Michael Amadio, who was moved up from the third line to the top line Monday in the 3-2 loss to Buffalo, scored. In all, that line generated six points and that was welcome news.
For Stone, the team’s captain, he probably thought he’d never get to perform one of his over-the-top celebrations again on home ice. He had last scored at T-Mobile in the Nov. 23 win over the Senators, Stone’s former team.
The Knights also got some offense from their defense. Daniil Miromanov scored, Alex Pietrangelo and Nicolas Hague picked up assists and the team’s power play went 2-for-4.
Then there’s Will Carrier, the fourth-liner who has generated offense like a first-liner. His third period goal where he joined the rush with Stephenson and Stone to create a 3-on-1 and buried a one-timer was his 10th of the year, a career high. Carrier had never scored more than nine in his seven NHL seasons.
“You need your top guys to produce,” Knights coach Bruce Cassidy said. “The secondary stuff is nice when you get it.”
Cassidy said the five-goal outburst, only the second time they’ve managed that many at home this season, was a matter of playing the right way and having a little puck luck in the process.
“There isn’t a team in the league that doesn’t go through periods where the puck doesn’t go in,” he said. “Credit our guys with sticking with it and not getting discouraged.”
Cassidy said the simplification of the way his team played Wednesday was by design but also a mindset from how it performs on the road.
“I think we’re always trying to do that to be honest with you,” he said of the direct way the Knights played vs. the Coyotes, who were playing their 22nd road game of the season because of the construction of Mullett Arena, their temporary home on the Arizona State campus and are now 6-13-3. “We had some guys going to the net. You still want to be creative, but it comes down to making plays.”
Despite the home struggles, Vegas continues to lead the Pacific Division with 47 points which is also tops in the entire Western Conference. Had the Knights managed to not squander so many points at home this month, they might be running away with the Pacific crown.
Of course, they’re still without Jack Eichel, their high-scoring center, who has been battling a leg injury and hasn’t played since Dec. 9. They’re also without defenseman Shea Theodore, who last played that same night against the Flyers as Eichel. Theodore was still on crutches Wednesday so his return is not imminent. And fellow defenseman Zach Whitecloud isn’t expected to return for a couple months after injuring his knee against Boston Dec. 11.
So considering three important pieces of the puzzle are missing, along with rookie forward Paul Cotter, who was hurt Dec. 15 at Chicago, the fact is the Knights are still in first place. And throw in the limited contributions they’ve gotten from some of their forwards, makes it more impressive.
Yes, beating the Flyers (in OT) and the Coyotes shouldn’t be lauded as great wins. But two points are two points and it all counts the same, whether it’s in December or March. The four-game homestand wraps up Friday against St. Louis, a .500 hockey club. A win against the Blues and the Christmas break will be much brighter.