The hats came raining onto the ice inside T-Mobile Arena like confetti.
Center William Karlsson’s hat trick triggered that traditional response Sunday as fans saluted yet another historic Golden Knights moment amid a 6-3 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs at T-Mobile Arena.
The win was the 26th of their inaugural season as the Knights extended their winning streak to seven games and remained in first place in the Pacific Division.
They also own the best record in the Western Conference with 54 points (26-9-2) and have registered at least one point in 12 straight games. And they have the NHL’s best record at home at 16-2-1.
Along with becoming the first Knights player to notch three goals in one game, Karlsson passed James Neal (17) for the team lead in goals with 20. Karlsson’s last one was spectacular as he won a race in the Toronto end, dove and swatted the loose puck on his backhand into the empty net with 1:36 to play after the Leafs had pulled goaltender Frederik Andersen.
“It was pretty unreal,” Karlsson said. “You dream about that your whole life.
“I don’t think I’ve ever skated so fast in my life. I really wanted it. I just threw myself at it and it was a good feeling to see it go into the net.”
Karlsson also had an assist, setting up Jonathan Marchessault in the slot for his 14th goal. Shea Theodore had made a strong end-to-end rush and delivered a pass to Karlsson, who fed Marchessault to make it 5-3 after Auston Matthews had scored late in the second period and 27 seconds into the third.
“I got a little scared when they scored the third goal in the third period on the first shift,” Knights coach Gerard Gallant said after Matthews registered his 100th point in just 1 1/2 NHL seasons. “Matthews and that line was unbelievable. They’ve got great puck possession and they make great plays.
“When we get that fifth goal, we felt really good about it. The guys started working hard and I thought we got some more confidence after that.”
Malcolm Subban started in goal for the Knights and turned aside 19 of the 22 shots he faced as his teammates staked him to a 3-0 first-period lead on goals by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Karlsson and Erik Haula.
“They have good shooters,” Subban, a Toronto native, said. “Matthews is a great player. That second one he just blew right by me. But when they score, our team’s going to come right back. We’re a resilient group and we play a full 60-minute game and we work hard and it shows in the standings.”
Matthews said the Leafs’ slow start and 3-0 deficit was tough to overcome.
“It seems like every time we start slow, we kind of get our legs maybe the second, third period and we end up playing pretty well,” Matthews said. “But when we start well and we’re skating is when we won all those games. It’s definitely something we’ve got to figure out.”
The Knights have managed to do that. They are 16-1 when they score first and it has a lot to do with where they sit in the standings on the first day of 2018.
1. Will’s a thrill. William Karlsson’s hat trick was due in part to puck luck, part skill and part effort. He was a tough cover for the Maple Leafs all game long and has raised his level of play to unprecedented heights. He’s got 20 goals and we’re not even at the midway point of the season. When you consider he had only 18 career goals, his performance has been remarkable.
2. Good hunch. Everyone thought Marc-Andre Fleury would start in goal Sunday vs. Toronto. But surprise! Malcolm Subban got the call and he was excellent, turning aside 19 of 22 shots. Goaltender coach David Prior made the call and it’s hard to second-guess anything that guy has done this year
3. Belly up. He may be a fourth-line center and he had only three goals going into Sunday’s game, but Pierre-Edouard Bellemare has been one of the Knights’ unsung players. He set the tone for the 6-3 win with his pretty backhand goal 2:24 into the contest and once again did a stellar job killing penalties and winning enough faceoffs.
Steve Carp Las Vegas Review-Journal