In Marc-Andre Fleury’s first game since his father died, the Golden Knights scorched the Chicago Blackhawks 5-1 Tuesday night. Fleury made 28 saves on 29 shots, as Vegas avenged their first-ever loss to Chicago the meeting prior. It was the final game this season between both clubs, with Vegas winning the season series 2-1.
“Every win is huge, but with what [Fleury’s] been through the past little while, you want to battle for him,” Knights defenseman Deryk Engelland said. “Getting back and seeing him do his thing, he came up huge a few times for us tonight. He’s back in fine form, and we’re happy to get him back.”
The win also gives Vegas an 8-1-0 overall record against Chicago and a seven-point lead over the Blackhawks for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference. Chicago is now tied with Anaheim for the second-fewest points in the conference, as they struggle to find consistency and remain in the playoff picture.
“[We’re] not happy with the performance, obviously,” Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said. “I thought the first period was not bad. We still gave up more than we should. But, obviously, losing de Haan was a big blow and I thought we got worn down as the game went on back there for sure. It’s asking a lot of guys but whether it’s managing the puck or just being sharp in transition, they were better than us.”
Hawks defenseman Calvin de Haan left the game late in the first period after being checked along the boards by Vegas’ Mark Stone, re-injuring the shoulder he had surgery on this off-season. Stone was assessed an interference penalty for his hit on de Haan, but the Hawks failed to take advantage, as the period would end scoreless.
After a decent-enough first period, it would only get worse for the Blackhawks, as Vegas would dominate the remainder of the game. Reilly Smith began the scoring on the power play for Vegas after Hawks defenseman Dennis Gilbert was penalized for hooking. Deryk Engelland and William Karlsson would give Vegas a 3-0 lead to end the frame, in which Vegas’ special teams scored both a power play and short-handed goal — compliments of Smith and Karlsson, respectively.
Smashing shorthanded success! pic.twitter.com/nafHi3mv5x
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) December 11, 2019
Max Pacioretty and Ryan Reaves would add to Vegas’ lead, before Hawk forward Dominik Kubalik would ruin Fleury’s shutout bid in the waning seconds of the game. Kubalik scored while on a power play unit consisting of Brandon Saad, Alex Nylander, Kirby Dach, and rookie defenseman Adam Boqvist, who earned his first NHL assist on the play. With de Haan’s injury, Boqvist saw 17:42 of ice time and finished the game with a -2 rating.
— Blackhawks Talk (@NBCSBlackhawks) December 11, 2019
The Blackhawks continue their road trip this Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes, before facing the St. Louis Blues on Saturday. On a blue line that is already without their number-one defenseman in Duncan Keith, de Haan’s expected absence is bound to test the Hawks’ defensive depth all the more. Keith, Andrew Shaw, and Drake Caggiula will all be out for at least the next two games, as none of them traveled with the team to Vegas. Olli Maatta — who has been battling flu-like symptoms — did make the trip to Vegas, but it is still unknown when the defenseman will be ready to return.
With an underwhelming October and a red-hot November, this month will be make-or-break for the Hawks. Of the Hawks’ 10 remaining games in December, seven will be against Western Conference opponents; five of which against Central Division foes. The Hawks will also play six out of the next 10 games on the road. If the Hawks don’t close out December with a substantial winning record, they may find themselves well out of the playoff picture by the time January rolls around.