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3 takeaways from Knights’ win: Special teams strike in Chicago

Updated December 15, 2022 - 9:07 pm

There were five Chicago Blackhawks skaters on the ice. None of them was near Reilly Smith.

The Golden Knights left wing was unmarked on the edge of the right circle when center William Karlsson won a puck battle along the boards on a penalty kill. There was no one to bother Smith’s shot after Karlsson sent him a pass. No one to throw off his one-timer that put the Knights up 2-0 only 3:56 into the second period.

The team’s NHL-leading 14th road win wasn’t its best of the season. There were lulls throughout the Knights’ 4-1 victory Thursday at United Center.

The Knights were still plenty good enough to take advantage of the opportunities given to them by a Chicago team with the fewest points in the NHL. The win gave the Knights a sweep of their two-game road trip after defeating Winnipeg 6-5 on Tuesday.

“Well, they’re never perfect,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “It’s an imperfect league. We’re still trying to build our game like every team in the league.”

The Knights (22-9-1), playing short-handed with defenseman Alex Pietrangelo away from the team for personal reasons and centers Jack Eichel and Brett Howden and defensemen Shea Theodore and Zach Whitecloud hurt, leaned on their special teams for their sixth win in their last seven road games.

Center Chandler Stephenson buried a pass from captain Mark Stone for a power-play goal 5:19 into the game. It was the eighth time the Knights have scored on the man advantage in their last eight games.

Smith’s NHL-leading fourth short-handed goal, scored against a five-forward setup by Chicago (7-17-4), extended the lead. Only the Minnesota Wild (six) and the Knights (five) have more short-handed goals than Smith has on his own.

Right wing Phil Kessel scored 8:08 into the third period to extend the lead to 3-0 around the same time his sister Amanda Kessel scored in a U.S.-Canada rivalry series game at Dollar Loan Center. The rest of the game, which had zero TV timeouts in the final frame, zoomed by.

Rookie goaltender Logan Thompson lost his shutout bid with 3:54 remaining on a goal by right wing Taylor Raddysh. Smith sealed the win with an empty-net goal with 30 seconds left. His two-goal game gave him 14 this season, tied for the lead on the Knights with linemate Jonathan Marchessault.

“A good team effort,” Smith said. “Everyone came back (on defense). Everyone was blocking shots. That’s a big one for us.”

Here are three takeaways from the win:

1. Stephenson off schneid

Stephenson ended a difficult streak Thursday.

His first-period goal was his first since Nov. 10. He hadn’t scored a goal in his previous 16 games, though he did have 12 assists in that span.

A move back to center with Eichel nursing a lower-body injury seems to have sparked Stephenson’s game. He has a goal and five assists his last three games with Eichel out.

2. Thompson bounces back

Chicago is likely sick of seeing Thompson.

The rookie, coming off back-to-back losses for the second time this season, almost got his second shutout against the Blackhawks after blanking them in his team’s home opener Oct. 13. Thompson made 23 saves for his 14th win, tied for the third-most in the NHL.

The 25-year-old improved to 3-0-1 against Chicago, with eight goals allowed in four starts.

”They had a lot of good chances (in the third period),” Smith said. “(Thompson) did an awesome job being able to find pucks and keep them out.”

3. Cotter exits early

The Knights’ injuries woes kept piling up Thursday.

Rookie left wing Paul Cotter was hit by Chicago defenseman Jarred Tinordi at the offensive blue line with 4:58 left in the second period. Cotter was shaken up and didn’t return. Cassidy said Cotter had an upper-body injury after the game.

“I can’t tell you right now how long he’ll be out, if at all,” Cassidy said. “He didn’t come back, so that’s never a good sign.”

Contact Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.

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