LAS VEGAS (AP) At the start of the NHL season, most figured the Vegas Golden Knights would be struggling heading into the final month and would be sellers at the trade deadline.
Instead, they’re perched atop the league standings with 86 points, ahead of Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay, which has 85.
William Karlsson scored two goals and Reilly Smith had three assists to lead the Golden Knights to a 6-3 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Friday night.
Tomas Hyka, Jonathan Marchessault, Tomas Nosek and David Perron also scored for the Golden Knights.
Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury, who is four wins shy of becoming the 13th goalie in NHL history to register 400 career wins, stopped 30 shots.
Vegas, which has won five of its past six games, improved to 16-2-1 against Pacific Division teams.
”I hate having seven-game homestands to be honest with you because you’re going to have some ups and downs,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said. ”It’s tough to keep your guys focused all the time. But overall, to go 5-2 on this homestand, I thought we played for the most part good hockey. We scored a lot of goals. I thought our defensive game gotta get a little bit better. But we’re playing well, overall it’s been very good, I’ve been very happy with it.”
Vancouver, which dropped to 3-7-1 in February, is 5-11-1 against intradivision foes.
The Canucks got goals from Sven Baertschi, Thomas Vanek and Daniel Sedin.
Anders Nilsson, who played in his 100th career game, had 19 saves for the Canucks before being replaced by Jacob Markstrom at the start of the third period. Markstrom made 8 stops for Vancouver.
”It’s definitely frustrating, I’m not happy with the loss,” Vancouver coach Travis Green said. ”The players gotta realize that against a quick team they’re not gonna have as much time and space if you turn the puck over a couple of times inside their blue line.”
Vegas opened the scoring when Hyka, playing in just his third NHL game, scored his first career goal 2:29 into the game.
”I’m kind of still getting used to (the NHL), everything is faster compared to the IHL, but I play with two really good guys and they make a lot of things there for me and I’m just really happy I can play with them,” said the 24-year-old Hyka, about his linemates Cody Eakin and Ryan Carpenter.
The Canucks then displayed a little bit of offensive prowess of their own, tying the game when Sam Gagner’s pass slipped under Vegas defenseman Luca Sbisa and Baertschi punched it home, then taking a 2-1 lead when Vanek tapped in a loose puck.
Vegas reclaimed the lead on a pair of Karlsson goals, late in the first period and 5:36 into the second. Karlsson’s two goals give him 33 for the season, third-best in the NHL behind Washington’s Alex Ovechkin (36) and Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin (34).
The Golden Knights extended their lead to 5-2 on Marchessault’s 22nd goal of the season, and Tomas Nosek’s seventh of the campaign.
Sedin, who notched his 16th goal of the season when he beat Fleury top shelf with a power play goal 4:28 into the third period, said the Canucks haven’t seen a team faster than the Golden Knights all season.
”If you’re a second too late, they’re gonna pass right by you and come the other way,” said Sedin, who has seven points in his last seven games. ”These guys can score, they got offensive skill up front and we knew it was going to be a back and forth game. We played good in the first and good in the third, but in the second it got away from of us.”
Perron was credited with an empty net goal when the Canucks inadvertently sent the puck the length of the ice for the final margin. Along with his assist on Nosek’s goal, Perron tied his career-high of 57 points.
Just prior to the game, the Golden Knights were in fact involved in a three-team deal with Ottawa and Pittsburgh in which Vegas gave up American Hockey League prospect Tobias Lindberg. In turn, the Golden Knights will receive Penguins forward Ryan Reaves and a fourth-round pick from the Canucks. The deal also sent Senators center Derick Brassard to the Penguins, who sent defenseman Ian Cole, goalie prospect Filip Gustavsson and draft picks to the Senators.
While the trade deadline is Monday at Noon eastern, several of the Golden Knights said the team is too focused on their playoff push to worry about major moves affecting the roster.
”We definitely have good players all around our lineup … we like our team, we like the chemistry here,” Marchessault said before the game. ”Stuff can happen and you don’t necessarily expect it. A lot of things can happen and it’s out of your control, it’s part of the game. At the end of the day you gotta trust your organization.”
Vegas has now scored a power-play goal in 14 of its last 16 games. … The Golden Knights are 25-3-0 record when scoring the first goal of the game while their .893 win percentage when recording the opening mark leads the NHL. … Baertschi now has seven points (3 goals, 4 assists) over the past seven games.
Vancouver: At Arizona on Sunday
Vegas: At Los Angeles on Monday