Updated March 20, 2021 - 12:17 am
The Golden Knights nearly walked into Staples Center for their game against the Los Angeles Kings on Friday night well short of a full deck.
Center Chandler Stephenson and left wing Alex Tuch were game-time decisions in the morning. Center William Karlsson was in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols in the afternoon. Goaltender Robin Lehner’s readiness after not playing since February was unclear.
But things ended up working out. All four players were in the lineup in a 4-2 victory at Los Angeles.
The Knights’ fifth straight win helped them close out the first half of the season five points clear of second-place Colorado for the West Division lead.
“Those are important pieces for us,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “Being without those guys tests your depth. … It obviously changes our team when you have those guys back in.”
Almost all the Knights’ reinforcements proved crucial.
Karlsson scored the game-winning goal after he cleared the protocols. DeBoer said Karlsson had a false positive test.
Stephenson returned after a two-game absence to center the top line, which was the Knights’ best offensively against the Kings (12-11-6). Left wing Max Pacioretty scored two goals to move into a tie for the fifth-most in the NHL with 16.
Lehner made his first start since Feb. 7 after being diagnosed with the third concussion of his career. He made 23 saves and improved to 4-1-1.
“I thought he was real solid,” DeBoer said.
The Knights (21-6-1) jumped to a 2-0 lead on Pacioretty’s goals. He scored with 9:43 remaining in the first period after right wing Mark Stone passed him the puck. Stone has at least one point in his past 10 games, a team record.
Pacioretty’s second goal was more unusual. He threw a backhand shot on net that Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick grabbed with his glove deep in his crease. It was initially deemed a save, but the NHL’s situation room in Toronto halted play to take another look. The league determined the puck completely crossed the goal line in Quick’s glove, and Pacioretty had his fourth game with at least two goals.
“A couple guys said (on the bench) you could tell on video,” Pacioretty said. “I didn’t want them to jinx it, so I got off the bench. I didn’t want (right wing Ryan Reaves) to jinx it. He told me it was in. I guess he’s got a better eye than I do.”
The Kings cut the deficit in half before the period was over. Lehner stopped a shot from center Anze Kopitar, but left wing Alex Iafallo pounced on the rebound for his seventh goal.
Los Angeles then tied the game 6:18 into the second period on a tip from right wing Trevor Moore. But rather than gaining confidence, the Kings wilted.
The Knights outshot them 20-10 the rest of the game. Karlsson gave the Knights the lead back by tipping in left wing Jonathan Marchessault’s shot with 4:45 remaining in the second.
It was his first goal in nine games and gave him 200 points with the Knights, second-most in team history behind Marchessault (202).
Left wing William Carrier sealed the win with 9:26 left in the third period by scoring his first goal,
“We’re overall pretty happy with how the first half has gone,” said defenseman Alec Martinez, who played his first game as a Staples Center visitor after being traded away by the Kings last season. “Our trajectory is going in the right direction.”