Updated November 19, 2021 - 5:15 am
Zach Whitecloud had two career goals in his first 72 NHL games with the Golden Knights.
The defenseman matched that total in the second period Thursday night.
Whitecloud provided an offensive spark in his return from injured reserve, and the Knights gained a measure of revenge from their last matchup against the Detroit Red Wings with a 5-2 victory at T-Mobile Arena.
“It was exciting to get back in,” Whitecloud said. “Obviously, when you’re injured for an extended period of time or any time you’re away from the boys or the regular schedule, you start to miss that, obviously.
“Sitting up in the press box you want to get playing as quick as possible. But obviously it’s exciting to be back contributing and helping out as best I can.”
Defenseman Nic Hague and forward Paul Cotter, a Michigan native, also scored as part of a four-goal second period that chased Detroit goalie Thomas Greiss after 40 minutes.
Reilly Smith added a goal in the third period for the Knights, who improved to 4-1 on their homestand in front of an appreciative announced crowd of 18,002.
Whitecloud appeared in his first game since he had surgery for a broken right hand suffered Oct. 22 against Edmonton.
He sneaked in from the point and finished off a pass from Mark Stone to put the Knights ahead 2-0 at 5:56 in the second, then beat Greiss from long distance at 12:32 for his first career two-goal game.
Robin Lehner finished with 26 stops to help the Knights beat the Red Wings at T-Mobile for the first time in three tries.
Givani Smith and Joe Veleno scored for Detroit, which beat the Knights 5-2 when the teams met Nov. 7.
“Really proud of them,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “It seems like every day we get something new thrown at us. This week it’s COVID and positive tests, and obviously the previous weeks it’s been injuries and long-term injuries. They don’t let anything affect them.
“We canceled practice (Wednesday). We didn’t pregame skate (Thursday). We showed up. I thought we were a little slow out of the gate because of that. They found their legs and their game and didn’t let what’s going on around them affect how they played.”
Here are three takeaways from the game:
1. Offense from defense
The Knights were among the league leaders in scoring by defensemen entering Thursday and added to the total.
After Whitecloud and Hague scored, the Knights have a league-leading 14 goals from the blue line. Anaheim is second with 12.
And with a combined three goals and an assist from Whitecloud, Hague and Alex Pietrangelo, the Knights have 47 points from their defensemen, tied with Florida for the most in the NHL.
“We’re always trying to pick our spots and work into areas to create opportunities,” Hague said. “We always talk about playing as a five-man group. I think that’s a huge part of it.
“You want to pick your spots, but if we have full possession of the puck and you know the puck’s going to go to the net, then we want to try to get there, get bodies, win those loose pucks and try to create as much as we can.”
2. Strong in the middle
The Knights continued their recent dominance of the second period, outscoring Detroit 4-1 in the middle stanza.
The four goals matched their season high for a period and was the second time in the past three games the Knights have managed the feat. They scored four times in the third period to pull away against Vancouver on Saturday.
On the homestand, the Knights have outscored their five opponents 10-3 combined in the second period. That includes a plus-2 differential in the loss to Carolina on Tuesday.
For the season, the Knights have outscored their opponents 19-17 in the second period.
“I think we’re a good transition team, so you get that second-period line change and you’re able to create a little bit more offense on rushes and quick-ups,” Smith said. “We didn’t exactly score that way tonight, but I think sustained pressure and keeping tired defenders out there, I think we’re doing a good job of that.”
3. Roster moves
Whitecloud’s return coincided with the loss of defenseman Shea Theodore, who was scratched. Theodore caught an edge in the third period of Tuesday’s loss to Carolina and smashed his head into the boards on the way down.
“He fell hard,” DeBoer said. “Worked out (Thursday), skating (Friday), progressing really well. But I don’t have a return-to-play date.”
Forward Sven Baertschi made his Knights debut with three forwards in COVID protocol.
Also, defenseman Alec Martinez and forward William Karlsson were placed on injured reserve, according to the NHL media website.
“We have one more game here on the homestand, and we’ve got to take care of business,” Lehner said. “But so far, testament to our group, the system, coaches, everyone. We’re fighting through a lot of adversity. I think it shows a lot of credit to our organization, the depth we have.”