For Jonathan Marchessault, it was never about revenge.
Same for Reilly Smith. And especially for Gerard Gallant and Mike Kelly.
The one-time Florida Panthers were fixated on getting two points Sunday at T-Mobile Arena. They all may have an ax to grind for one reason or another, but the players and coaches are looking at the big picture, which is getting the Golden Knights in position to secure a spot in the playoffs in their inaugural season.
The got the desired result when Erik Haula broke a 2-2 tie with 8:20 to play, and the Knights went on to defeat Florida 5-2 in front of 17,593 fans. With the win, the Knights (21-9-2) pulled into a first-place tie with idle Los Angeles in the Pacific Division. Both teams have 44 points and the Knights have two games in hand on the Kings.
“I wasn’t thinking much about it,” Gallant said about trying to stick it to his former team which fired him and Kelly, his assistant coach, back in November 2016. “I prepared for this game the same way I do for every game.
“It wasn’t much fun early when they went up 2-0. But I thought the second half of the game we played real well.”
Haula redirected Marchessault’s shot/pass from the top of the right faceoff circle past Florida goaltender James Reimer for his 12th goal of the season. Marchessault spun away from a defender and threw the puck toward the goal and Haula was in the right spot.
“It was a weird play,” Haula said. “(Marchessault) was just throwing it at the net and I was in the right place.”
For Marchessault, who was left unprotected by Florida in the expansion draft last June, it was a big night, and not just because it was against his former team. Marchessault scored as well, finding the empty net with 2:10 to play after the Panthers pulled Reimer. He had three points against his former team with two assists to go with his 11th goal. He now leads the Knights in scoring with 29 points (11 goals, 18 assists).
James Neal also had an empty-net goal with 28 seconds remaining, his team-leading 16th.
“Once we got our forecheck going and we started skating, we were able to get control,” Marchessault said. “We started a little slow but we picked it up and it was a big win for all of us.”
The Panthers managed just two shots on goal in the third period and the 2-0 lead they had built against starting goaltender Malcolm Subban eventually evaporated as the Knights ratcheted up the pressure.
First it was defenseman Nate Schmidt from below the right circle as he one-timed Reilly Smith’s pass to cut it to 2-1 at 6:39. It was the fourth straight game a Knights defenseman has tallied a goal. Collin Miller then tied it with 2:40 to play in the first period as he blasted a slap shot past Reimer after taking a feed from Marchessault.
Miller, who scored his fifth of the season, leads all Knights defensemen in scoring with 18 points.
“I probably could have handled the two goals better,” said Subban, who had 16 saves. “But I was able to get my focus where it needed to be and the guys did a good job in front of me.”
Marchessault said he never really got emotional about facing his former team. And while it was clearly not just another game for him, he handled his business professionally and wound up getting a free meal for the weekend after he and former teammate Jonathan Huberdeau went out for dinner Saturday night and Huberdeau picked up the check.
“Like I said before, it’s in the past,” Marchessault said. “I cut the cord last summer and I’m happy to be with the Golden Knights.”
1. Smart starting Subban. At first, it didn’t seem such a hot idea to start Malcolm Subban Sunday as he let in a couple of goals he probably shouldn’t have. But he got stronger as the game went on and he needed to get some work having sat since Dec. 8. More important, he wasn’t yanked after surrendering the two early goals in the first 5: 13 which shows the coaches have confidence in him.
2. D providing O. For the fourth straight game, a Golden Knights defenseman has scored. Sunday, it was Nate Schmidt and Colin Miller who got the Knights on the board; Schmidt with a one-timer from below the right circle, Miller with a rising slap shot from just inside the blue line. Gerard Gallant wants his defensemen involved in the attack and they’re doing just that.
3. Marchessault’s revenge. Never mind Gerard Gallant getting revenge on his former team. Jonathan Marchessault really got back at the Panthers, scoring a goal and getting two assists. He was left unprotected by Florida in the NHL Expansion Draft and he made the Panthers pay dearly Sunday.