Max Pacioretty didn’t view his move to the Golden Knights’ third line as a demotion.
But the left wing played Saturday like he had something to prove.
Pacioretty scored two goals, and coach Gerard Gallant pushed all the right buttons in a 5-1 victory over Nashville in front of an announced crowd of 18,430 at T-Mobile Arena.
“We talk about playing for 60 minutes and the right way and that’s what we want to achieve,” Pacioretty said. “Hopefully we gain some confidence from not just the outcome of the game but the way we played, and hopefully we can keep playing like that now and get lines rolling and our team rolling.”
Oscar Lindberg finished with a goal and an assist skating alongside Pacioretty and center Cody Eakin as part of the changes Gallant made up front.
Brandon Pirri, who skated on the second line, and Shea Theodore also scored to help the Knights snap a three-game losing streak and also end a franchise-record five-game home losing skid.
Goaltender Malcolm Subban made 29 saves in his first start since Jan. 6 and notched his third consecutive victory.
“Obviously, you come out in the first, you want to have a good start, especially when you haven’t played in a while,” Subban said. “That’s the biggest thing, just coming out and taking it shot by shot. The team played unbelievable in front of me tonight. There wasn’t too many hard chances. They made it easy for me.”
The Knights and Predators met for the first time since Jan. 23 when Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban accused Knights center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare of biting his finger during a scrum.
The Knights finished with 50 shots on goal and held a 78-52 advantage in total shot attempts. Pacioretty registered a game-high nine shots on goal in 16:16 of ice time.
“When you lose, you throw some things out there and hope they’re going to work,” Gallant said. “I thought Max came out tonight and was focused and ready to play a good solid hockey game.”
The Knights fired 24 shots on net in the second period against Nashville goaltender Juuse Saros, two shy of their season high set Jan. 15 at Winnipeg.
Pirri notched his 10th goal when he converted on a power play with 9:07 remaining in the period. Reilly Smith sent a cross-ice pass to Pirri, whose first shot was blocked. But the rebound came right back to Pirri in the slot, and he buried his second goal in the past three games after being held without a point in his previous six appearances.
Theodore put the Knights on top 3-0 less than two minutes into the third period when he jumped into the play and was left one-on-one with Saros after the Knights forced a turnover in the Nashville zone.
“I thought our forwards did a great job supporting,” Theodore said, “and a big part of the game was going (defenseman to defenseman), moving our feet and jumping into the rush to add to our attack.”
Saros entered 3-0-0 with a 0.67 goals-against average and .983 save percentage in his career against the Knights, and it took an odd bounce to solve him in the first period.
Cody Eakin flipped the puck high into the Nashville zone, and the hop handcuffed Saros. Pacioretty was parked on the doorstep and jammed in the loose puck for his 17th goal at 17:17 of the first.
Nashville had a goal disallowed less than two minutes earlier when Gallant successfully challenged that Colton Sissons was offside before he scored with 4:13 left in the first.
“It seemed like the puck was following me a bit, especially the first couple shifts,” Pacioretty said. “It just seemed to end up on my stick and whenever you get those early touches, you seem to find your legs and play with confidence.”
1. New-look D. Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant shuffled his top four defensemen in addition to making changes up front. Nate Schmidt moved to the left side to partner Deryk Engelland. Also, Shea Theodore switched to the right and joined Brayden McNabb. Theodore was noticeably active, jumping into the play on several occasions.
2. Big kill. The Knights’ penalty kill had been struggling of late, allowing a power-play goal in five straight games entering Saturday. But Nashville went 0-for-3 with the man advantage, and the Knights had an important kill in the third period when McNabb was penalized for delay of game.
3. Tuch takes over. Knights right wing Alex Tuch notched two assists to snap his season-long streak of seven consecutive games without a point. With the two points, Tuch regained the scoring lead from Jonathan Marchessault and now has 42 points in 52 games.