LAS VEGAS (AP) - The Vegas Golden Knights started their second half of their schedule by opening a seven-game homestand with some of their best hockey in a critical showdown.
Mark Stone scored twice, Shea Theodore had three assists and Marc-Andre Fleury made 27 saves to lead Vegas to a 4-1 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night to take over sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division.
Vegas looked entirely different than the team that appeared flat after the league’s three-day holiday break in a 4-3 loss in Anaheim on Friday.
The Golden Knights entertained the second-largest home crowd of the season, an energetic announced gathering of 18,461, by thoroughly outplaying Arizona with more shots (36-28), more hits (36-17), more blocked shots (20-12) and more high-danger chances (10-7).
Vegas, which came into the game with the league’s third-best home power play, also dominated on special teams, going 2 for 3 with the man advantage while stopping the Coyotes - who are 13-3-1 when scoring a power-play goal - on all five of their opportunities. Arizona, which came in ranked first in the league with an average of just 6.5 penalty minutes per game, sent four to the box for a total of 11 minutes.
That included a crucial penalty kill early in the game, when Ryan Reaves was whistled for a double-minor just 3:29 into the game. It wasn’t too long after killing the four-minute infraction that Stone got things going on a power play, by manhandling Arizona defenseman Jason Demers in front of the net to retrieve a feed from Alex Tuch and flipping the puck past Coyotes starter Antti Raanta.
“The intensity was something special tonight,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said. “Obviously, it was two teams tied for first place and I knew it was going to be a lot better than last night. The PK was really good tonight and we had some key saves at key times. To kill (the double-minor) off and not get behind 1-0 early was real key for us.”
Michael Grabner scored the lone goal for the Coyotes when he tied the game with 6 1/2 minutes left in the period, but Stone answered about 95 seconds later when he buried a pass from Max Pacioretty behind the net to put Vegas back in front.
It was Stone’s first two-goal game as a member of the Golden Knights and put Vegas alone atop the division for the first time since Oct. 4, when they opened the season by sweeping a home-and-home series against San Jose.
Fleury, who came in having lost five of his last eight starts while allowing 21 goals in his previous five games, earned his 454th career win to move into a tie with Curtis Joseph for sixth all-time. Chandler Stephenson and Paul Stastny also scored for the Golden Knights, who improved to 10-4-2 in their last 16 games.
Raanta made his 15th start of the season for Arizona but was pulled at the 1:54 mark of the second period after giving up four goals on 16 shots. Adin Hill, recalled on Dec. 20, made 20 saves in his season debut.
“That’s a heavy team,” Arizona coach Rick Tocchet said. “They’ll rattle a little, so you know you got to be able to be quick against that team. Your power play has to be good against those guys, because they’re going to rattle you. You can’t be intimidated.”
Which the Coyotes weren’t, they just couldn’t match Vegas speed, physicality or scoring.
Stephenson and Stastny added their goals in the second period to keep Vegas’ momentum flowing.
“We wanted to have a good start to the game, I thought we did that,” said Stone, who now has a point in nine of the last 10 games, with eight goals and six assists. “When we got all four lines kind of cycling the puck, using our size, our skill and our speed, we’re a tough team to play against. We had contributions from everybody tonight. Big goal from Stastny to get that three-goal lead. Those are such important times of the game, you know, 4-1 is so much better than 3-2.”
NOTES: The Golden Knights recalled Keegan Kolesar earlier in the day but reassigned the forward back to Chicago of the AHL after the game. … Arizona F Lawson Crouse played in his 200th career NHL game. … Theodore matched a career-high three assists, which he also achieved on Dec. 15 against Vancouver. … The Coyotes remain one win shy of their 1,300th victory in franchise history.
Coyotes: Host Dallas on Sunday to open a four-game homestand.
Golden Knights: Host Anaheim on Tuesday to continue a seven-game homestand.
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