The wide, toothy grin still hadn’t slipped from Keegan Kolesar’s face 15 minutes after the Golden Knights’ game Monday.
Finally, after all the missed nets, bad bounces and shots that seemed attracted magnetically to goaltenders’ pads, he broke through. Kolesar scored his first NHL goal with 8:41 remaining in the Knights’ 5-1 win over the St. Louis Blues at T-Mobile Arena.
It had been a long time coming for the 23-year-old rookie forward, who had created chance after chance only to helplessly watch pucks stay out of the net.
That 1st goal smile 😃 pic.twitter.com/1NH165am1S
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) March 23, 2021
“I just feel like a mountain’s off my back,” Kolesar said.
Kolesar is a bottom-six forward, but it’s not as if he’s struggled scoring before. He had a 30-goal season in junior hockey. He scored 20 one season in the American Hockey League. His goal-scoring touch is one thing that separates him from other skaters who play lower in the lineup.
He still couldn’t buy a goal in his first 25 NHL games. Kolesar had 19 shots on goal entering Monday. He had 24 scoring chances and 15 high-danger chances. None of them found their way into a net.
But he got one he couldn’t miss against the Blues. Defenseman Nic Hauge threw a shot on net from the blue line in the third period with Kolesar standing in front of the crease. Goaltender Jordan Binnington stretched out his left pad to make the save, and the puck bounced to his left. Kolesar was first to the rebound. He had a wide-open net to shoot at and didn’t miss.
“He’s been working so hard,” captain Mark Stone said. “He had so many good looks. He comes to the rink every day with a smile on his face. Obviously, he would have liked to have scored way before this, but I said to him now that you have your first, you’re going to score a lot more goals.”
Getting the goal and grabbing the puck was only part of the fun for Kolesar. The Knights’ bench exploded in celebration when he scored, and he said his teammates might have been more excited than he was.
— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) March 23, 2021
He worked a long time to make his NHL debut last season. He grinded to create opportunities for himself this season as a rookie. He cashed one in Monday, and it will be a moment he never forgets.
“It was a lot of congrats and more ‘About time,’” said Kolesar, who added that he has not decided what to do with the puck. “A lot of good laughs. … Overall, it was a fun and exciting night.”
Here are three more takeaways from the win:
1. Stone shines again
Another game, another impressive Stone performance. He continued his dominance by recording his second two-goal game and third game with at least three points this season.
“He’s a big moment guy,” DeBoer said. “Over the first half of the season, when I look back at big moments in games when we needed a boost of energy or a play to be made or shot to be blocked, he’s right in the middle of things.”
2. Defensive effort
The Knights also had one of their best defensive efforts of the season. They held the Blues to 16 shots on goal, tied for their fewest allowed in a game.
Goaltender Robin Lehner didn’t have to make many special saves in his second game since returning from a concussion. The skaters in front of him limited quality chances and barely gave St. Louis any room to operate.
“We played really well defensively,” left wing Jonathan Marchessault said. “It was good to see (Lehner) back there again, and we wanted to play hard in front of him.”
3. Power play steps up
The Knights’ power play was a major factor in their 3-1 loss at Los Angeles on Sunday. It rebounded Monday with its fourth game with at least two goals.
Stone and center William Karlsson each had power-play tallies.
“Power play was there tonight, so that made a difference,” Karlsson said.