Golden Knights beginning to separate from pack in Pacific Division
Victory at Oilers makes statement 'that we're in for the long run'by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer
EDMONTON -- The Vegas Golden Knights sent a message to their rivals in the Pacific Division on Monday.
The Golden Knights (39-24-8) defeated the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 in overtime at Rogers Place to open a three-point lead on the second-place Oilers (37-24-9) in the division.
"It's just a statement, a statement to us and to the League that we're a good team, that we're in for the long run," said center Jonathan Marchessault, who tied the game 2-2 at 11:57 of the third period and then set up the game-winning goal, by defenseman Shea Theodore, at 2:13 of overtime.
Video: VGK@EDM: Theodore nets OT winner for Golden Knights
Vegas has made a strong move in the past month, winning eight in a row from Feb. 13-28 and rising above a tightly packed group of five teams in the Pacific Division to take control.
On Feb. 12, the Golden Knights were third in the division and five points separated the first-place Vancouver Canucks and fifth-place Arizona Coyotes. Now, Vegas has a three-point cushion on the Oilers, seven on the third-place Calgary Flames, 10 on the fourth-place Canucks and 12 on the fifth-place Coyotes.
Since Peter DeBoer replaced Gerard Gallant as coach on Jan. 15, the Golden Knights have gone 15-5-2. Their 32 points in that span are tied with the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning for third-most in the NHL behind the Philadelphia Flyers (35) and Colorado Avalanche (34).
"I think the whole Pacific Division is pretty tight and so many teams are fighting for the wild-card spot," Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. "We're not that far ahead of everyone. Home-ice [advantage], having it, it's always big in the playoffs, too. It's going to be a tight race with everyone until the end."
Winning back-to-back games, including a 5-3 victory at the Flames on Sunday, was an important response to a poor outing to start a three-game road trip in Western Canada; the Golden Knights were shut out 4-0 at the Winnipeg Jets on Friday.
Vegas will play the fourth of five straight road games against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; FS-N, FS-WI, ATTSN-RM, NHL.TV).
"Two huge wins for us and our group," DeBoer said. "We're battling a little adversity here injury-wise. I thought the way the trip started in Winnipeg, it could have gone either way and I thought our guys dug in and the last two nights, exceptional efforts."
The Golden Knights have been without forwards Mark Stone (lower-body injury) for six games and Alex Tuch (lower-body injury) for 12, and then had to play without forward Chandler Stephenson (undisclosed) against the Oilers.
There has also been the matter of helping Fleury find his groove.
Fleury had lost his previous two starts against the Los Angeles Kings and Winnipeg Jets, allowing a combined eight goals on 41 shots. Goalie Robin Lehner, acquired in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks on Feb. 24, has won each of his three Vegas starts with a 1.67 goals-against average and .940 save percentage.
Video: NJD@VGK: Lehner blanks Devils in 300th NHL game
"It was good to get the win for [Fleury]," Marchessault said. "We weren't necessarily there for him in his past two starts so it was good to get the win for him tonight."
Fleury (27-16-5, 2.77 GAA, .905 save percentage) got back on the winning side with an unusual script Monday.
He made 22 saves but didn't face his fifth shot until Edmonton center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins sent a 35-foot wrist shot his way 30:30 into the game.
"A tough start [for me], a little quiet, too," Fleury said. "Not many shots to start the game. You've just to [stay ready] in your head, right? Waiting, cold toes. It's a cold rink, right? But it just showed how well the team was playing. I knew they would come with some shots and some traffic and they did, but a huge goal by [Marchessault] in the third to tie it up."
The Golden Knights have 11 games remaining and the Oilers have 12, so the race for first place is far from over.
The Oilers managed a point Monday playing without captain Connor McDavid, who was ill, but have some work to do if they're to take a late run at the division title.
Edmonton has been outshot 168-99 in its past four games but is 2-1-1 in that stretch largely because of strong goaltending from Mikko Koskinen, who started three of those games and played 25:16 in relief of Mike Smith in the other, going 2-0-1 with a 1.44 GAA and .966 save percentage.
"This is as disconnected as we have been for a long time," Oilers coach Dave Tippett said after the game. "And it is not just tonight's game I am talking about, it's been a number of games here. We have our first practice in a long time tomorrow and hopefully we can fix some of those issues, but we can't continue to play like that and feel like we are a good team."
The Oilers next play against the Jets at Rogers Place on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET; SN, TVAS, NHL.TV).
"We've been able to get points because of our two goalies, but going down the stretch, you can't rely on them to make 40 or 50 saves a night," said forward Alex Chiasson, who had his 11th goal of the season Monday. "This is real adversity with  games to go in the season and we have to find a way for our group to create some momentum."