The Penguins (16-13-3) began another Western road trip by traveling to Las Vegas to battle the Golden Knights (19-9-2) for the very first time. The highlight of this matchup, besides playing in Vegas for the first time, was the fact that Matt Murray would return from I.R. to face former Penguin and fan-favorite, Marc-Andre Fleury.
This was unusual dynamic for many of the Penguins’ core players. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang had been in front of Fleury since the very beginning of the Penguins’ return to prominence almost 10 years ago.
With everything at play tonight, the Penguins looked like this:
Nice to see Dominik Simon get rewarded with his strong play of late by being slotted next to Sid.
And the Golden Knights started out like this:
Golden Knights starters— David Schoen (@DavidSchoenLVRJ) December 15, 2017
Engelland, Theodore, Smith, Karlsson, Marchessault and some guy named Fleury.
And a "Fleury! Fleury!" chant goes up before the national anthem.
Former Penguin, (a theme tonight) James Neal, sniped the first goal two minutes in. The puck took a weird bounce and Neal took the shot from an unusual angle to beat Murray by the top shelf. Great defense here, too.
Soon after the goal, Jon Merrill took an interference penalty against Riley Sheahan to give the Pens their first power-play of the night. The Knights would eventually get the kill.
Conor Sheary almost tied the game at 1, but Marc-Andre Fleury, with his signature style, came flying out of the net, got between the circles, and poked the puck away.
With 7:56 left in the first, the Penguins would respond. The puck hit the official, Sheahan found the puck, then found Ian Cole who buried it past the Flower.
With about five minutes left, the Knights were penalized again. Tomas Nosek was called for holding Jake Guentzel. This penalty would be killed as well.
Murray was sharp for the last 90 seconds of the period, making three big saves in succession to keep it even. The period would soon end with both teams locked at 1.
Some notes after 1:
This graphic needs more Pittsburgh gold in its life. pic.twitter.com/BExe3LHJpc— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 15, 2017
About five minutes in, Murray looked to have been shaken up, specifically favoring his shoulder. Soon after that, Ian Cole was doing his goaltender no favors, as he was called for interfering on James Neal, giving Vegas their first power-play. The penalty was killed by Pittsburgh, however.
Not much scoring action to speak of during this period, but with about six minutes left in the second, Fleury was channeling his inner Penguin, as he made the SAME EXACT SAVE on Brian Dumoulin, just like the one he made on Nicklas Lidstrom to win the Stanley Cup in 2009.
So... like we said... seen this one before from Fleury... pic.twitter.com/8lvF4DbLJl— NHL Daily 365 (@NHLDaily365) December 15, 2017
Jon Merrill was soon penalized for closing his hand on the puck, giving Pittsburgh their third power-play of the night. Vegas was able to keep the Penguins off of the score sheet here.
The second period would end with both teams still locked in a 1-1 stalemate.
Numbers through two periods:
The low-scoring nature of this game carried over into the final period as well. Both teams exchanged a few chances here and there, but this was very much a tight-checking contest.
Near the halfway point of the period, the Penguins were caught while making a change and a bad Brian Dumoulin turnover led to Jon Merrill taking a great drop pass from Erik Haula to give Vegas a 2-1 lead.
Murray really tried his hardest to keep the Penguins in the game. He was making numerous top-quality saves throughout the period. It was a true goaltender duel, however the Jedi Knight was no match for his former master.
With 2:02 left in regulation, Chad Ruhwedel was called for hooking, effectively putting the stamp on this one. The Penguins were fighting against the clock, and couldn't muster a last-second goal. They would drop this one to the Golden Knights by a score of 2-1.
- Defense was pretty shaky for both teams tonight, but Fleury was able to keep the lead long enough for Vegas to get the win over the Penguins.
- Both goaltenders, however, were fantastic. Murray stopped 24 out of 26 shots and made some huge saves to keep it close. And Fleury was just a step ahead, as he stopped the puck 24 out of 25 times.
- What else can you say about the Golden Knights? For what some consider to be a ragtag group of players, they continuously find ways to win. Even with the team using five goalies this season, they have managed to win 20 out of the 31 games they have played. Is the “expansion team regression” coming? It doesn't look like it judging by the way they played tonight.
- The Penguins are back in action on Saturday when they travel to Arizona to battle the Coyotes.