Updated March 2, 2022 - 6:10 am
Pete DeBoer didn’t care that his milestone came against one of his former clubs.
After the Golden Knights stumbled through February, the coach was just happy to get two points Tuesday regardless of the opposition.
Backed by a strong defensive effort, the Knights gave DeBoer his 500th career victory with a 3-1 victory over San Jose in front of an announced crowd of 17,819 at T-Mobile Arena.
“He worked hard, and everywhere he goes a lot of teams believe in his system, and that’s what we do right now,” winger Jonathan Marchessault said. “We believe in him. It’s been a good road for him, and we just want to keep going here.”
The Knights took two cracks at making DeBoer the seventh active coach to reach 500 wins before finally getting there. DeBoer’s 499th victory also came against the Sharks.
DeBoer had 198 wins in four-plus seasons with San Jose, including an appearance in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. He’s won 85 of his 132 games with the Knights and is 500-368-119 overall.
Reilly Smith scored twice, including the go-ahead goal with 6:04 remaining in the second period, to help the Knights avoid a costly slip-up against a backup goalie.
Zachary Sawchenko was pressed into action for the final two periods when San Jose starter James Reimer was forced to leave with a lower-body injury.
Keegan Kolesar opened the scoring 2:16 into the first period, as he blocked a shot in the defensive zone and finished off an odd-man rush with Brett Howden.
Three of Kolesar’s nine career goals are against San Jose, including two in the past 10 days.
The Knights have won 11 straight against the Sharks and are 18-1-3 all time.
“When I reflect back on the 500th win, what I’m going to like the most is it was a Pete DeBoer-type game,” DeBoer said. “We didn’t give them a lot. We smothered them. Defensively, we were really solid.”
Here are three takeaways from the game:
1. Lehner returns
In his first game since Feb. 9 at Calgary, Robin Lehner didn’t have to work hard to reach the 20-win mark for the third time in his career. He finished with 16 saves.
The Knights held San Jose to one shot on goal in the final 12:26 of the first period and eight shot attempts during the second, two of which came from outside the blue line.
The Sharks’ goal came early in the second period when the puck ended up on Noah Gregor’s stick at the side of the net and he scored for the first time since since Jan. 26.
Lehner said he felt good, and his return is significant for the Knights, who were rumored to be in the market for a goaltender before the March 21 trade deadline.
“I’m not going to talk about injuries. Obviously I haven’t had a surgery, so I’m good,” Lehner said. “It was nice to get back out there. The team played great today, made it pretty easy.”
2. Misfits take control
The Misfit Line of Smith, William Karlsson and Marchessault combined for two goals and six points and could have had more.
“The last couple games, you’ve seen our (offensive) zone play kind of pick up and play with a little more creativity,” Smith said. “We could’ve had six or seven goals tonight. We just have to start pulling the trigger on some of the looks on the first chance we get.”
The linemates teamed for the first goal, as Karlsson found Marchessault streaking through the neutral zone in transition to create a brief odd-man rush. He slipped a pass to Smith, who put the Knights ahead 2-1 in the second.
Those three combined again in the third when Marchessault carried the puck toward the blue line, spun and fired a shot that Karlsson redirected to Smith for the tap-in and his 16th goal.
“I kind of panicked,” Marchessault said of the play. “(Sharks defenseman Brent) Burns was coming really quick on me, so I was just trying to get rid of the puck because it was danger zone for me. And Karly made a nice tip to Reilly. Good play.”
3. Standings update
The Knights were temporarily in the second wild-card spot when Edmonton won Tuesday, but leapfrogged back into third place in the Pacific Division.
It was their 30th win of the season and much needed after dropping five of their past six, including two straight.
This was the start of a busy month for the Knights, who play three games in four days starting Thursday against Boston before a key five-game trip next week.
“We all need to get going here and string wins together,” Lehner said. “It’s just nice to get a win, and maybe we can get something going here.”