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December 1, 2021

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Defense leads the way in Golden Knights’ most complete game of season

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John Locher/AP

Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore (27) embraces goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (29) after defeating the Arizona Coyotes in an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Las Vegas.

Golden Knights Beat Coyotes, 5-2

Vegas Golden Knights players celebrate after defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (7) scored against the Arizona Coyotes during the first period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore said they talked with the Golden Knights defensive corps before Wednesday’s game about getting more involved in the offense. A defenseman hadn’t scored a goal yet, and they wanted that to change.

Mission accomplished.

Theodore scored twice and Pietrangelo netted his first as a Golden Knight in a 5-2 victory over the Arizona Coyotes at T-Mobile Arena. A big part of the Vegas strategy revolves around active defensemen, and the Knights are at their best when they get games like that.

The win also moved Vegas to 4-0 on the season, the best start in franchise history.

“We were talking before the game that we hadn’t really pitched in too much,” Theodore said. “It’s kind of convenient that we did tonight, and I thought it definitely helped our overall game and definitely our confidence on the back end.”

Pietrangelo and Theodore each recorded four shots on goal, tied for the team’s best. Pietrangelo, Nicolas Hague and Alec Martinez each had assists, giving the defense six points on the night.

It wasn’t just that the defense scored, but when. The Golden Knights seemed to be stuck in neutral to start the game, without a shot on goal through the first five minutes. The first shot was Theodore’s first goal, coming at 5:18 of the first and changing the complexion of the game.

After that it was all Vegas. Pietrangelo scored three minutes later, and Vegas held the Coyotes to just two shots on goal for the rest of the period.

“Leading up to tonight as a ‘D’ core we talked about creating a little bit more, creating some space for our forwards, maybe get some more shots, maybe try and be a little bit tighter in the ‘O’ zone, and we did that,” Pietrangelo said. “That’s part of the reason why we scored. We followed the play. Forwards were real good with the puck tonight. Makes our lives easier.”

The night was an achievement for the defense, but the forwards were just as strong. In his best game in the NHL, Keegan Kolesar provided screens on both early goals from the defensemen, and assisted on Pietrangelo’s. His line with Alex Tuch and Nicolas Roy were on the ice for both early goals, and Tuch added a power-play goal late for a three-point night.

And of course Mark Stone chipped in. It’s hardly a Golden Knights game without Stone making an impact, and he did so with a goal in the second period and an assist in the third. The two points gave him seven in four games this season — best in the NHL.

“I thought our game overall was better than the night before, and the big guys led the way, on the scoresheet but also in our play,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “Some guys got rewarded, which was nice.”

Stone is everything you want a star player to be. He leads the team in points after being three off the lead last season. He has the biggest contract on the team. He’s the captain. And he continues to lead by example on the ice, at both ends.

The offense is evident. He had a nifty move to deke out Arizona’s goalie for his tally and assisted on what is so far the team’s only power-play goal. The defense, though, is what sets him apart from other scorers in the league.

For example, in the first period he broke up an Arizona scoring chance by sneaking up on Christian Dvorak in the slot, popping his stick up and going the other way. Even Stone’s teammates are amazed at what he does every night.

“I think everything, honestly,” Theodore said with a slight chuckle when asked what makes Stone so good. “His stick is just too good at knocking pucks down, he’s always in the right spot, he’s definitely a leader and he’s our captain for a reason.”

Wednesday’s outing was arguably Vegas’ best of the season, taking the lead early and never giving it up. In fact, after the Knights went up 2-0, their lead never shrunk to smaller than two goals again.

A coach will always find things to nitpick, but it was hard to see much from the press box that wasn’t terrific. You can argue the power play isn’t there yet — the unit went 1-for-7 and is now 1-for-14 on the year — or that zone exits could be little tighter, and you wouldn’t be wrong.

But overall, it was a good game from Vegas. The stars were on their game, the lower-lineup forwards looked as good as they have all year and the defense led the way offensively. Throw in another strong goaltending performance — 19 saves on 21 shots from Marc-Andre Fleury — and the Golden Knights, so far in this young season, are living up to their billing as one of the league’s best teams.

“This is the direct result of how hard they prepared for the season and we wanted to get off to a good start and we did,” DeBoer said. “You’re absolutely happy any night you win in the NHL.”

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