Tonight, despite a lack of fans in attendance, the Golden Knights opened the 2021 campaign with a 5-2 win against the Anaheim Ducks.
Jonathan Marchessault opened the scoring for the VGK 1:07 into the contest, the fastest goal to open the season in franchise history. Tomas Nosek scored shortly after to give the Golden Knights a quick 2-0 lead. After this point, the Golden Knights appeared to take their foot off the gas. Max Comtois opened the scoring for the Ducks at the 4:22 mark of the first period. After a powerplay from the Golden Knights failed to score, Comtois scored again to tie the game at two. Things cooled off after that, and both teams started to settle into the game. The 2-2 tie held up entering the first intermission.
The Anaheim Ducks entered the second period looking like the hungrier team. The Golden Knights struggled clearing their own zone and getting the puck through the neutral zone. The second period did not provide any scoring but was not void of chances. Despite an early powerplay and controlling the majority of the period, the Ducks were held off the score sheet. Danton Heinen had the best chance for the Ducks after Ryan Reaves turned the puck over, but the shot rang off the cross bar. Shea Theodore and Max Pacioretty had the best chances in the period for Vegas, but were stonewalled by Ducks goalie John Gibson. The score remained knotted at two entering the third period.
“We didn’t like how the second period felt,” Head Coach Peter DeBoer said. “We wanted to come out in the third and really take the game over and dictate more rather than stand around and watch.”
The Golden Knights managed to do just that. After struggling heavily in the second period, the Golden Knights looked like a completely different team entering the final frame. Newly anointed Captain Mark Stone knotted the inevitable game winning goal just 49 seconds into the third period. Max Pacioretty added some insurance with just over nine minutes remaining in the game. The Ducks pulled Gibson with three minutes remaining in the game to try to even up the score. Kevin Shattenkirk had the best chance, but his shot caromed off the right pad of Robin Lehner and stayed out of the net. Alex Tuch knotted an empty net goal with 14 seconds left in the game to give the Golden Knights a 5-2 victory. The VGK also moved to 11-2 all time against the Ducks .
“They gave us a good pushback.” Mark Stone said following the game. “The hockey game is 60 minutes. We need to continue to play no matter ups and downs and need to finish the game strong. I thought in the third period we played our game for the whole 20 minutes. Even when we got up 4-2, we continued to play and didn’t really give them anything.”
This win for the VGK was far from perfect, but the mistakes can be attributed to rust and lack of preseason exhibition games. The good news is that the mistakes are fixable and the key players showed up when they needed to. Alex Pietrangelo, who made his Golden Knights debut, led the team with 25:30 on ice and recorded his first point with the team. After allowing two goals on the first five Anaheim shots, Robin Lehner settled in. He finished with 20 saves on 22 shots, including a few big saves in the second period to keep the score tied. After just over a year removed from his season ending injury, Cody Glass recorded his first point of the season as well. Getting guys like Pacioretty and Marchessault involved, after the struggles they had in the postseason, was an important component as well.
The Golden Knights face off against the Ducks once again on Jan. 16, in the second game of their eight-game series. The game will be aired on AT&T Sportsnet at 7 p.m. PST.