The Golden Knights’ “power kill” hasn’t been plugged in often this season.
Center William Karlsson and right wing Reilly Smith are excellent penalty killers and are integral to the NHL’s third-best unit. They just haven’t scored as many shorthanded goals as they have in the past.
But the dynamic duo found a way to connect Friday. Smith scored the Knights’ second shorthanded goal on a 2-on-0 with Karlsson, helping blow open the team’s 7-4 win against the Arizona Coyotes at T-Mobile Arena.
“(Karlsson) does such a good job being able to jump into the play and jump into the rush and give ourselves opportunities like that,” Smith said. “I think he was pretty close to going offsides, that’s how much speed he’s able to generate and create opportunities like that.”
The Knights have been an incredibly effective penalty-killing team under coach Pete DeBoer. But that hasn’t always translated to goals.
The team has scored shorthanded five times in his 61 games in charge, an average of one goal every 12 games. Under previous coach Gerard Gallant, they scored 25 times in 213 games, an average of one goal every 8.5 games.
DeBoer did change things when he became coach, asking the Knights to be more aggressive chasing the puck in the defensive zone to shut down plays before they begin.
The new style affected Karlsson and Smith’s scoring chances on the penalty kill. They were two of 42 players in the NHL last year that scored at least two shorthanded goals. Smith had the only one on the entire team entering Friday, and it came on an empty net.
The two found a way to recreate their old magic against Arizona. Karlsson blocked a shot on the Coyotes’ first-period power play and the puck bounced to the neutral zone. Smith was the first to it, and he and Karlsson’s speed left Arizona defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson in the dust to create a 2-on-0.
The goal was easy from there. Smith passed to Karlsson, who passed it back to Smith, to get goaltender Adin Hill moving laterally in his crease. The play resulted in Smith shooting at a wide open net.
The Knights hope the goal leads to more chances for the dynamic duo.
“The more aggressive we are on the penalty kill, it puts teams under duress and they make mistakes,” Smith said. “If we’re doing that, we’re playing on our toes. I think we get a lot more opportunities.”
1. Power play breaks through
The Knights didn’t waste much time busting their 0-for-18 slump on the power play.
Left wing Jonathan Marchessault drew a penalty 2:30 into the game and scored 33 seconds into the man advantage. It was the Knights’ first power-play goal since March 29. Their drought was the second-longest in team history.
Marchessault said he and left wing Max Pacioretty discussed before the game that the Coyotes’ penalty kill would likely pressure high. That would open up a pass across the zone, and Pacioretty executed that exact play to set up Marchessault.
“It’s that time of the year where we all have to be on the same page to connect,” Marchessault said. “We need to be a force. There’s no excuse for that group to not have a successful power play. It was a good first goal. We can get a lot of confidence from that.”
2. Kolesar scores
Rookie right wing Keegan Kolesar needed 26 games to score his first NHL goal. It took him nine to get his second.
Kolesar had an unassisted tally 6:59 into the first period thanks to a spectacular individual effort. He stripped Coyotes defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin in the offensive zone, took a second to line up his shot and beat goaltender Adin Hill blocker-side.
“You strip the D man, there’s usually no one else behind him but the goalie,” Kolesar said. “I thought I had lots of time. I just wanted to shoot my shot. Luckily enough, it went in.”
3. Stephenson assists own goal
Center Chandler Stephenson may deserve two points on his second-period goal Friday.
On that shift, defenseman Brayden McNabb lost his stick in the defensive zone. Stephenson loaned him his and later went to the bench to pick up a new one.
McNabb eventually moved the puck to right wing Mark Stone, who sprung Stephenson for a breakaway on a stretch pass. McNabb ended up getting the secondary assist on Stephenson’s eighth goal, meaning two of the three points recorded on the play came from one of his sticks.