The early years of the Golden Knights were littered with questions about whether the franchise had or could acquire a No. 1 defenseman.
Now the team has two on one pair.
Coach Pete DeBoer, when shuffling his lineup Monday against Colorado, put Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore together on the Knights’ blue line. It resulted in a two-headed monster that controlled the game nearly every shift it was on the ice during a 3-2 overtime win Saturday night at the Anaheim Ducks.
“Both of us like to skate, both of us like to move the puck, so it seems like we’re creating opportunities getting up the ice,” Pietrangelo said. “It’s tough to defend us on the breakout, which I think is big for us because when we can do that clean and execute coming out of our end, we’re tough to handle.”
DeBoer had resisted the temptation to put his best two defensemen on one pair. Down the stretch last regular season and into the playoffs, he had Theodore and Nate Schmidt play separately at five-on-five.
Schmidt and Brayden McNabb focused on the tougher defensive assignments. Theodore and Alec Martinez pushed for offense against easier matchups.
DeBoer tried the same formula to start this season with Pietrangelo taking Schmidt’s place. He mixed things up when searching for a spark Monday in Denver and found something that worked.
The Knights have outscored their opponents 3-0 with Theodore and Pietrangelo on the ice together in the last two games. Pietrangelo scored Saturday on a play that showcased both their skills. He fired a pass from below the goal line to Theodore at the point, and his partner slid it right back to him in the right circle to set up a shot.
“He’s such a good passer, he can make plays like that,” Theodore said.
The Knights hope there’s more to come. DeBoer might break up the two eventually if he wants to distribute the offense more evenly on the blue line. But they probably will continue to see spot minutes together late in periods and games when the team has an offensive-zone faceoff or needs a goal.
“Obviously, two elite offensive-thinking defensemen,” DeBoer said. “When you’re defending against two guys like that, you have to respect both of their ability to make plays and or beat you with their feet. I think you get a little more room.”
Here are three other takeaways from the win:
1. Mr. 100
Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury earned his 100th win with the franchise in his 168th game.
Fleury became the second-fastest goalie in history to be the first to reach 100 wins with a franchise. It took Tiny Thompson 158 games to do so in Boston.
Fleury admitted he wasn’t sure he was going to be piling up wins when he was acquired in the 2017 expansion draft.
“It was lots of unknowns coming to Vegas,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun and hopefully there’s a lot more coming up.”
Fleury also became the 15th goaltender to have 100 wins with two teams. He won 375 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He is nine wins from tying Ed Belfour for the fourth-most all time and 14 from tying third-place Roberto Luongo.
2. Karlsson strikes twice
Knights center William Karlsson scored twice — in the second period and overtime — for his first two-goal game of the season.
Karlsson hadn’t scored in his previous eight games. The last time he scored at least twice was Feb. 23, 2020, when he had a hat trick against the Ducks.
“It was nice to get the first one,” said Karlsson, a second-round pick by Anaheim in 2011. “It’s been a couple games. And after that, you get even more hungry. Almost greedy.”
Karlsson has 14 points in 17 games, giving him his highest points-per-game average (0.82) since the Knights’ inaugural season (0.95).
3. Fourth line steps up
Right wing Ryan Reaves admitted Saturday morning he wasn’t happy with his line’s play.
The group took a step toward rectifying that against the Ducks. Reaves, center Keegan Kolesar and left wing William Carrier were on the ice for four scoring chances at five-on-five and none against.
They were also out for Pietrangelo’s goal, with Carrier providing a screen on Ducks goaltender John Gibson. Pietrangelo credited Carrier for his help, and DeBoer went out of his way to mention the fourth line.
“I thought our fourth line was great tonight right from the opening shift of the game,” he said.