Updated December 1, 2023 - 7:39 am
The Golden Knights delivered a message to the upstart Canucks on Thursday night at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.
The defending champions are still the team to beat in the Pacific Division after delivering a 4-1 thumping of the second-place Canucks, who had a chance to take over sole possession of first place with a regulation win.
“We don’t talk about first place or anything like that, but I think our guys knew this could be a team we’re chasing or they’re chasing us for the top spot,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “So yes, we talked about wanting to put our best foot forward.”
A newly constructed top line of Jack Eichel, Ivan Barbashev and Mark Stone struck twice in the first period, and the Knights never took their foot off the gas pedal.
Eichel finished with a goal and two assists. Barbashev added a goal and an assist, and Alex Pietrangelo tacked on two assists.
William Karlsson added a power-play goal in the second period, and Brett Howden found the net with a deflection just 15 seconds into the third period.
The Knights (15-5-4) scored four goals for the second consecutive game as they work their way out of a prolonged offensive slump. But it was the complete game that had the team all smiles after the game.
“This was probably one of our best games of the year,” Cassidy said. “Overall, the way we checked, we made their top guys work for their space. We just had no weaknesses tonight, and as a coach, those are the games you love.”
Vancouver (15-8-1), the highest-scoring team in the league, was held to just one goal on 22 shots.
“It’s been awhile since we played that way,” Barbashev said. “I think our whole game was pretty good. It’s a good feeling, especially to end the road trip. We didn’t give them a lot of chances, and when we did, our goaltenders were there to take care of it.”
The Knights now return home to host Washington on Saturday and St. Louis on Monday.
Here are three takeaways from the win:
1. Hill exits
After stopping all 16 shots he faced over the first 40 minutes, starting goaltender Adin Hill was pulled from the net.
Logan Thompson was inserted to start the third period for what the Golden Knights called precautionary reasons due to a lower-body issue for Hill, who was back in his native province of British Columbia.
Hill remained in uniform.
“Our trainers recommended that we use precaution is the easiest way to put it,” Cassidy said. “We’ll know more when we get back to Vegas, but hopefully it’s nothing serious.”
It marked the first time this season a Knights starting goaltender was unable to finish a game.
Thompson made five saves in relief.
2. Move sparks Barbashev
Barbashev was bumped up to the top line to play with Eichel and Mark Stone on Thursday.
Barbashev responded with his first goal in 11 games when he got to the front of the crease and knocked in a pass from Eichel, who tracked down the puck behind the net and found him.
The line struck again when Barbashev slipped a perfect pass across the blue paint to Eichel for an easy finish later in the first period.
Paul Cotter played with Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault, while Chandler Stephenson centered Brett Howden and Michael Amadio.
Stephenson moved up to center the line between Barbashev and Stone during the third period.
3. Milestone for Eichel
Eichel’s big performance came in his 500th career NHL game. It was also the 125th time he has suited up for the Knights.
Cassidy used the occasion to reflect on a time when Eichel’s future was very much in question because of a serious neck injury and his disagreement with the Buffalo Sabres about how to address it.
“I’m sure when he had his injury, he was wondering if he’d ever get to 500,” Cassidy said. “So I’m pleased he was able to get the proper care to be able to get back in the game and not reinjure the area. So first of all, his health has allowed him to do that. And obviously the Knights allowed him to do that, so I think he’s pretty pleased about that.”
Eichel became the second-fastest player in franchise history to reach 50 goals with his tally Thursday, behind only Karlsson.
His coach said Eichel is only getting started.
“He’s going to have longevity because of his legs, hockey sense and ability to make plays with the puck,” Cassidy said. “And I’m sure he’ll get to 1,000 and put up plenty of numbers doing it if he stays healthy. We’re just trying to build his overall game, and I’m real pleased with how he’s taken to that. To me, he’s as good a 200-foot player as there is in the league, and I think he enjoys being thought of that way and he’s worked hard at it. There’s a lot of good attributes. Those are just some of them.”