On Tuesday night, inside the T-Mobile Arena, fans got to see the difference between a playoff contender and a team with more deficiencies than strengths. From the outset, the Vegas Golden Knights outplayed the New York Rangers, using their overall team speed to overwhelm their opponents on the way to a 4-2 victory. Vegas came into the game without top-liner Reilly Smith, who was injured in Sunday afternoon’s game against the New Jersey Devils. Winger William Carrier and defenseman Colin Miller also remained out for the Golden Knights.
Vegas featured a new top in this one, with Reilly Smith unavailable due to injury. Max Pacioretty was inserted on the top line, with Brandon Pirri making his return to the lineup, returning to the second line alongside Paul Stastny and Alex Tuch. Just one game removed from being outplayed in the first 20 minutes, the Golden Knights seemed determined to take over the first period and establish momentum. Vegas came out fast, pushing the pace of play, leaving the Rangers scrambling. Cody Eakin opened the scoring for Vegas, with a breakaway goal, courtesy of a beautiful pass from Alex Tuch that gave Eakin the high danger opportunity. The Vegas Golden Knights dominated much of the first period, despite connecting on just one goal, as evidenced by Natural Stat Trick’s metrics from the first period. Vegas recorded a 66.67% Corsi For% and greatly out-chanced the Rangers with a 69.23% Scoring Chances For % and 80% High Danger Chances For % at the end of the first period. Below is the gameflow chart for the evening, as measured by Corsi +/- for both teams, in all situations.
New York started the second period much better than the first and had some success against the Vegas attack, gaining entry to the offensive zone more frequently. The Rangers seemed to be building toward something until a Mika Zibanejad tripping infraction, on William Karlsson, sent them to their second penalty kill of the period. Late in the power play, the Golden Knights tallied their second goal of the evening. Max Pacioretty sent a shot off the far-side post, past Alexandar Georgiev. The puck then bounced back toward the goalie, off the back of Georgiev’s leg, and then sat in the crease. Not surprisingly, Brandon Pirri jumped on the loose puck and tipped it into the net, for his seventh goal of the season with the Vegas Golden Knights. Pirri was called back into action due to a sudden influx of Golden Knight injuries and illnesses and he wasted no time getting back on the score sheet. That goal would go on to be Pirri’s only shot recorded shot on goal for the game.
Following the Pirri goal, the Rangers continued to push for something, anything to help reverse the course they knew far too well. In their first three games of this road trip, the Rangers have gotten off to slow starts and have been unable to right the ship and get back into the game. Their most recent loss was Sunday in Arizona, shut out by career backup Darcy Kuemper with a score of 5-0. Unfortunately for the Rangers, they were unable to cut the Vegas lead before Jonathan Marchessault’s unassisted goal with 1:07 left in the second period. Marchessault jumped on a loose puck in the neutral zone and found himself charging toward the Ranger net, with nobody in sight. Marchessault unleashed a dazzling wrist shot over the blocker of Georgiev to give the Golden Knights a 3-0 lead heading into the second intermission. Marchessault’s goal was his 14th of the season and his first goal in the last seven games, going back to December 21st versus the Montreal Canadiens.
Jonathan Marchessault (USA Today Sports)
Despite their improved play, 60% Corsi For and 66.67% High Danger Chances For %, the Rangers were unable to crack Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury was not required to make many big stops, but when he was called upon, he made the saves. He is one of those goaltenders who makes the big save, that could have broken the team’s back, precisely when they need it.
Throughout the third period, the Rangers continued to be the more aggressive, desperate team. Down three goals, New York was pushing play to the best of their ability. The period started with some emotion as Adam McQuaid and Ryan Reaves met at center ice for a quick bout. Both men landed a decent punch or two until Adam McQuaid bent, seemingly out of danger, to try to shake off his elbow pad. Much to McQuaid’s demise, he couldn’t shake the pad off, and Reaves took the opportunity to throw multiple punches down toward McQuaid, at the back of his head. Reaves’ punches eventually forced McQuaid to fall to the ice, as he was attempting to regain his balance and composure to respond to the shots.
Following the fight, the game felt carried a little edge. Multiple post-whistle scrums started popping up and the Rangers’ frustration was clear to see. Eventually the Rangers got on the board, on the power play, with Brayden McNabb in the box for interference. Mika Zibanejad, the Rangers’ point leader, scored the goal and it was a thing of beauty, catching the Vegas penalty kill standing still. Zibanejad carried the puck into the Vegas zone, dropped it to Chris Kreider on the boards, and continued toward the net. Kreider sent a cross-ice pass to Mats Zuccarello, who then fired it across Fleury, back to Zibanejad, who finished with a redirect in tight. Zibanejad is supremely talented and this power play effort displayed just what the Rangers’ top forwards are capable of.
Mika Zibanejad (USA Today Sports)
Vegas would end up holding off the Rangers long enough for a Ryan Carpenter empty-net goal, that essentially sealed the game. New York eventually added a second goal with 23 seconds left in the game, but Jesper Fast’s effort was just too little, too late. Overall, the Rangers played a pretty solid game, considering the vast difference in team talent and standing. They were able to get Vegas to settle for more outside, perimeter play, and limited the high danger chances Georgiev, their backup net minder, had to face.
Vegas’ next game is a big one, a home game against the San Jose Sharks. Coming into the season, Vegas and San Jose were looked at as the two powerhouses in the Pacific Division and both teams are living up to that billing as of late. Defenseman Erik Karlsson of the Sharks is currently on a 14-game point streak and the Sharks have gone 6-1-0 in their last seven games, including a 7-2 win Tuesday night against the Edmonton Oilers. In those seven games, the Sharks have scored an average of 5.14 goals/game. While their defense and goaltending remain a weakness, the Sharks have shown an ability to simply overpower teams offensively. Thursday’s game should be a fun one, between two teams dangerously close in the standings, with two important points up for grabs.
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