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Better than ‘Perfection’: How Knights’ top line raised its game

The Golden Knights’ top line is reunited and ready to strike fear into the heart of any opponent that takes the ice against them.

Just don’t count teammate Robin Lehner among them.

“They’re not scoring on me in practice, so I don’t know how they’re doing it in games,” the Golden Knights’ goaltender said jokingly after Tuesday’s 4-1 win against the Boston Bruins.

Left wing Max Pacioretty, center Chandler Stephenson and right wing Mark Stone are having success facing just about everyone else.

Pacioretty has a seven-game goal streak, a nine-game point streak and four consecutive multi-point games. Stephenson has seven assists in his last two games. Stone has a nine-game point streak and is tied for second on the Knights in scoring with 21 points despite missing 12 games.

It’s fair to say the trio is back and looking as sharp as ever. And, considering how well they’ve played previously together, that’s quite a statement.

“That just comes with playing with each other more,” Stephenson said. “Experience, confidence, all that. I do think that we just kind of know each other right now. Even (Pacioretty) is kind of sneaking in behind D now. Things have been rolling.”

The catalyst for the group’s resurgence was Pacioretty’s return to the lineup from a broken bone in his foot Nov. 24 against Nashville. Coach Pete DeBoer didn’t hesitate to put the trio back together, even though the Knights had won five of seven.

It was the right decision. Pacioretty and Stone have scored in every game since. Pacioretty’s 16 points are tied for the second-most in the NHL in that span with Toronto’s John Tavares, behind only Tavares’ teammate Auston Matthews (18). Stone is tied for fourth with 15.

Stephenson, who missed one game in that stretch because of the death of his grandmother, isn’t far behind with 12. He’s the only one of the three who has stayed injury-free. As a result, he ranks first on the Knights and is tied for 17th in the NHL with 29 points in 27 games.

“His speed is so valuable on both ends of the rink,” Pacioretty said. “If he’s not getting chances, he’s backing them off, and that gives other guys chances.”

What’s made the three click is what’s always made them successful. It’s just reached another level.

Stephenson’s speed creates space for his teammates. He has the vision and passing ability to find Stone and Pacioretty in dangerous areas.

Stone’s outstanding two-way game and propensity to take pucks away creates transition opportunities even when opponents are trying to be cautious. And Pacioretty’s release means he always has a chance to beat goaltenders clean if he has room to get off a shot.

The group knows its formula by now and how to play to it. Stephenson is holding onto pucks in the offensive zone knowing his linemates can flash open. Pacioretty is at the point where he can predict Stone’s takeaways before they actually happen.

“A lot of those chances look like you could be poaching for offense. But when you play with a guy for so long you kind of understand when his stick’s in a good area and just his body language knowing that he’s going to intercept a pass or break up a play,” Pacioretty said.

Those are the kind of plays that happen when a line is in its third season together. It’s made one of the best trios in the NHL all the more dangerous.

They compare favorably to Boston’s first line of left wing Brad Marchand, center Patrice Bergeron and right wing David Pastrnak — nicknamed the “Perfection Line.” That trio has outscored opponents 90-47 at five-on-five the last three seasons for a goals percentage of 65.69.

Pacioretty, Stephenson and Stone have outscored opponents 73-29 at five-on-five in that same span for a 71.57 goals percentage. It may not impress Lehner, but that’s a heck of an accomplishment. It may even warrant their own nickname at some point if they can come up with any good ideas.

“No (ideas),” Stephenson said. “Not off the top of my head, but I’d love to hear it.”

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

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