The Vegas Golden Knights are one of the NHL’s top teams in their first season of existence as an expansion franchise. They only have 13 losses this year – and two of them have come against the Minnesota Wild.
The red-hot Wild (28-18-5) on home ice this season improved to 18-4-4 at Xcel Energy Center. They’re 8-0-2 in their last 10 games at home and have at least a point in 18 of their past 19 games at home.
“We like playing in this building,” said Charlie Coyle.
Their latest showing was a 5-2 victory over Vegas (34-13-4) on Friday night. The Wild have won both meetings against Vegas so far, and they’ll head to the desert during March Madness. The New York Islanders are the only other team to go 2-0 against Vegas thus far.
Eric Staal scored his 21st and 22nd goals as he bookended the scoring in a game where four Wild players put the puck in the net – though to be fair, Staal’s second goal didn’t go in the net. He was awarded the empty-netter after David Perron hooked him on the play.
“You don’t see that often,” Staal said. “But I’ll take it.”
It was pretty clear early on that the Wild were the fresh team, while the Golden Knights looked like they played the night before in Winnipeg. Not only did the Wild put up a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes, they also outshot their opponent 19-8 in the opening frame and 36-24 for the game.
“We knew they were tired, and we were fairly well-rested,” said head coach Bruce Boudreau. “We thought if we jumped on them, we might be able to get a lead. And we did.”
The Wild got the scoring started about halfway through the first period on the power play. Mike Reilly, back after being a healthy scratch for the past six games, sent a picture-perfect pass cross-ice to Staal waiting on the back door for a highlight-reel goal. The assist was Reilly’s eighth of the season.
About five minutes later, Coyle scored his second goal in as many games to make it 2-0. Instead of passing the puck over, he took the shot which got by a screened goaltender Malcolm Subban. It marked the sixth of the year for Coyle.
He finished the game with a team-high five shots on goal.
The Wild didn’t let up in the second period as the Golden Knights still tried to find their legs. Just 1:11 in, Tyler Ennis scored his seventh of the season with a slapshot. Defenseman Jared Spurgeon’s shot with about four minutes left in the period found its way to the back of the net with the help of a deflection of a Vegas player’s skate.
Jonas Brodin had a three-assist night, bringing his season total to 10 helpers. Matt Dumba had two assists, tried to provide an open-ice hit to former teammate Erik Haula and then engaged in a brief fight with Ryan Carpenter.
Nino Niederreiter returned after missing eight games with a lower-body injury. He spent 15:16 on the ice (4:03 on the power play), was on the ice for two goals, had two shots on goal, a blocked shot and took a minor penalty. He also appeared frustrated in the second period when he sent a point-blank chance over the top of the net.
A familiar face got the Golden Knights on the board in the second period. University of Minnesota product Haula scored his 20th goal of the season to make it a 3-1 game.
Both Vegas goals came from Minnesota connections. Nate Schmidt somehow snuck the puck past Devan Dubnyk, who stood his ground up against the post with 7:22 left in the third period to make it a 4-2 game. Schmidt is a St. Cloud native and also a former Minnesota Gophers player. Also, both Vegas goals came on the power play, a blow to the solid Wild penalty kill at home. They’ve allowed just nine goals at home in their second-ranked home penalty kill.
Special teams were abundantly helpful on both sides, as the Wild managed a pair of power-play goals against a Vegas penalty kill that had allowed just 15 goals on the road coming into the game. Additionally, the Wild have scored at least one goal with the man advantage in seven straight games. They finished the game 2 for 4 on the power play; Vegas went 2 for 3.
Dubnyk (20-10-3) with 22 saves on 24 shots. Subban (11-2-1) with 31 saves on 35 shots.
The Wild have outscored the Golden Knights 9-4 in the first two games of this season series.
With the second assist on the Spurgeon goal, Staal had a three-point night for the fourth time this season.
Jason Zucker was held off the scoresheet, snapping his season-long seven-game point streak.
Haula had a two-point night with an assist on Schmidt’s goal. Perron assisted on both goals, giving him 33 for the season.
The Wild head to Dallas for a game Saturday night against the division-rival Stars.