At the end of a sequence late in the second period in which Marc-Andre Fleury made back-to-back saves, Chicago’s Jonathan Toews jabbed his stick into the pads of the Golden Knights goaltender searching for a loose puck.
Fleury responded by whacking the Blackhawks’ captain across the shin pads with the paddle of his stick.
Yes, Fleury is back. And still feisty as ever.
Fleury was 27 seconds from a shutout in his first start since he rejoined the team following his personal leave and backstopped the Knights to a 5-1 victory Tuesday night at T-Mobile Arena.
“It took me a few minutes there to get going,” Fleury said. “But the more the game went on, the better I felt. More calm and relaxed. … It was definitely more emotional.”
Fleury finished with 28 saves and was visibly disappointed after Chicago’s Dominik Kubalik scored on a power play to ruin the shutout bid.
It was Fleury’s first start since his father, Andre, died Nov. 27, and he had not appeared in a game since Nov. 23 against Edmonton.
“The crowd was unbelievable from when they announced Fleury’s name,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “It’s been loud since day one, but tonight it was extra special. … It got him geared up, and he played an outstanding game for us.”
Reilly Smith finished with a goal and an assist as part of the Knights’ three-goal second period. Deryk Engelland had his first goal, and William Karlsson scored short-handed for his first goal since Nov. 17.
Max Pacioretty and Ryan Reaves also scored in the third period.
Here’s what stood out from the Knights’ win:
1. Putting in work
Karlsson admitted he needed to produce more after going 10 straight games without a goal, and he was on the ice several minutes before practice Monday, firing pucks at an empty net.
“I haven’t scored in a while, so I’ve got to change something,” he said. “To go out there and work on some shots, it’s the least I can do.”
His reward came in the second period, as Smith stole the puck from Chicago’s Alex DeBrincat and gift-wrapped a pass on a 2-on-1 for Karlsson’s first goal since Nov. 17.
“I wanted to score,” Karlsson said. “It was not a very hard goal. Smitty pretty much did everything, but I’ll take it.”
2. Lineup moves
The return of Valentin Zykov was overshadowed by Fleury, as the forward was back in the lineup after serving a 20-game suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance.
Zykov skated on the third line and had a scoring chance in the second period but couldn’t convert after he bobbled a pass from Paul Stastny. He also took a penalty in the third period to nullify a Knights power play.
Also, Chandler Stephenson was handed an opportunity to skate on the second line, though he, Pacioretty and Mark Stone finished with a shot attempts percentage of 47.6.
“There was no passengers,” Gallant said. “Everybody did their jobs tonight and played their roles.”
3. Controlling the tempo
In Chicago’s last visit to T-Mobile Arena on Nov. 13, the Blackhawks baited the Knights into a game of shinny hockey and capitalized on the wide-open style for a 5-3 victory.
The pace was more to the Knights’ liking Tuesday, with fewer odd-man rushes allowed and more structure defensively.
Chicago had one shot attempt and no shots on goal in the first eight minutes of the second period and managed 17 shots on goal in the final two periods combined.
“When you’re scoring goals, it makes things look easier,” Smith said. “Chicago did a good job controlling the puck in their own zone, but we kept them to the outside and forced them to make tough plays.”