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Golden Knights top Ducks to finish 2019 on high note

Updated December 31, 2019 - 5:04 pm

When the calendar flipped to December, the Golden Knights stood fourth in points in the Pacific Division and were on the outside looking in at a playoff spot.

They’ll begin 2020 on top of the standings and playing their best hockey yet.

The Knights capped their dynamite December on Tuesday, downing the Anaheim Ducks 5-2 in a New Year’s Eve matinee before an announced crowd of 18,320 at T-Mobile Arena.

“We worked hard to put ourselves in the situation that we’re first in our division,” Marchessault said. “It’s going to be even harder to stay there, but that’s something we’re going to embrace the challenge and something that we want to take on.”

Marchessault scored twice in the third period, including on a penalty shot with 9:04 remaining to put the Knights ahead 4-1. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made 26 saves to move into sixth place on the all-time wins list.

The Knights finished the month 9-4-2 and are one of three teams in the Western Conference with 50 points. They are 29-8-6 during December, by far the best month in their brief existence.

Mark Stone and Alex Tuch had goals in the first period for the Knights, who improved to 6-2-1 in their past nine games. Reilly Smith added a second-period goal.

“We didn’t have a great start to the season the last two years, and we really pick it up in December,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “When we play like this, we’re a tough team to beat. We just have to keep doing it and get ready for every game.”

Here’s what stood out from the Knights’ win:

1. Fleury passes Joseph

The next three months should be fun, as Fleury tries to catch New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist on the all-time wins list.

Fleury picked up No. 455 against the Ducks to break a tie with Curtis Joseph and take over sole possession of sixth place. Lundqvist entered Tuesday’s game at Edmonton fifth all time, three wins ahead of Fleury.

Fleury didn’t have to be remarkable in the first two periods and came up with a pair of saves on a third-period penalty kill after losing his stick.

The Knights’ representative at the All-Star Game improved to 16-8-3 and lowered his goals-against average to 2.71.

“We have a few games at home here, and another division game (Tuesday),” Fleury said. “Those points are big, and we’ve got to keep rolling here.”

2. First line’s turn

Smith, Marchessault and William Karlsson combined for three goals and 14 shots on goal as they continued to torment division foes.

The line’s tenacious forechecking led to Smith’s backhand goal for a 3-1 advantage with 2:05 remaining in the second period. The right wing is on pace for career highs in goals and points.

Marchessault became the first Knights player to score two penalty-shot goals, though he appeared to make an illegal move, skating backward with the puck a moment before lifting it over Ducks goalie John Gibson.

Marchessault added an empty-net goal and is tied with Smith for second on the team with 15 goals.

“They have ways to really find each other out there,” defenseman Shea Theodore said. “Night in and night out, they’re shutting top lines down and they’re also pitching in offensively. I’m not sure what more you’d want out of a line like that.”

3. Tuch luck

The early start didn’t bother the Knights, who put up 22 first-period shots on Gibson, one shy of matching their season high in a period. They held a 34-10 advantage in shot attempts and had 80.95 percent of the scoring chances at all strengths while producing 2.33 expected goals.

But if not been for a brain cramp late in the first by Anaheim’s Josh Manson, the teams would have gone to the locker room tied at 1.

Gibson stopped Tuch’s shot and appeared to cover up, but the whistle never blew and the puck trickled loose seconds later. Manson skated by and casually tapped the puck into his own net, as Tuch was given credit for his first goal in 12 games.

“We were skating, playing a physical game,” Gallant said. “We put pucks to the net and we had a lot of rebound chances.”

More Golden Knights: Follow at reviewjournal.com/GoldenKnights and @GoldenEdgeRJ on Twitter.

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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