LAS VEGAS (AP) — Zach Whitecloud scored two goals in his first game back after hand surgery and the Vegas Golden Knights defeated the Detroit Red Wings 5-2 on Thursday night.
Vegas improved to 9-3-0 since Oct. 26, after opening the season 1-4-0 and continuously dealing with injuries to several top forwards and defensemen, and this week battling COVID-19 issues.
“It seems like every day we get something new thrown at us,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “They don’t let anything affect them. We canceled practice yesterday, we didn’t pregame skate today, we showed up and I thought we were a little slow out of the gate because of that. But they found their legs and their game and didn’t let what’s going on around them affect how they played.”
Nic Hague, Paul Cotter and Reilly Smith also scored for the Golden Knights. Robin Lehner made 26 saves.
The win snapped Vegas’ three-game losing streak in the series and marked the first time the Golden Knights beat Detroit at home since they joined the NHL in 2017.
The Red Wings were actually the first team to beat Vegas after it started its inaugural season with three straight wins prior to a 6-3 home loss to Detroit.
“It’s good to win against that team,” said Smith, who’s been with Vegas since Year One. “I know our first year they came in and beat us and they were one of the only teams to do that the first 15, 20 home games. I think we did a good job getting scoring from a lot of people tonight. We need that because with people going down it seems like every day it’s someone new.”
During their 12-game run, the Golden Knights have the second-most wins (nine) in the league and rank third with 3.58 goals per game, an abrupt change from the league’s fifth-worst 2.0 goals per game they averaged over their first five games.
Givani Smith and Joe Veleno scored for Detroit, and starting goaltender Thomas Greiss stopped 18 shots before being pulled after two periods. Alex Nedeljkovic replaced Greiss and made nine saves.
After a relatively quiet first period, the Golden Knights got the five-goal second started a few minutes in when Hague smacked home a rebound after Alex Pietrangelo’s initial shot from the point was stopped by Greiss.
Whitecloud scored the first of his two goals shortly thereafter thanks to a beauty of a pass from captain Mark Stone, who found the defenseman cross-ice and through the slot. Whitecloud then sent the puck through Greiss’ pads to make it 2-0.
Givani Smith cut the lead in half when his third attempt during a mad scramble in front of Lehner made it just over the goal line. But it didn’t take long for Whitecloud to put his second of the night in the net, as his drive from the blueline found its way through traffic and past Greiss.
“Obviously, when you’re injured for an extended period of time or any time that you’re away from the boys or kind of the regular schedule, you start to miss out,” Whitecloud said. “Sitting up in the press box you just want to get playing as quick as possible. It’s exciting to be back, to be back contributing.”
With less than a minute left in the second, Cotter fired a wrist shot from the top of the slot to make it 4-1 and eventually bring Greiss’ night to a close.
Vegas put the game to bed early in the third period when Mattias Janmark sprung Reilly Smith with a stunning pass at the offensive blueline. Reilly Smith skated in and deked Nedeljkovic beautifully before roofing home a backhand to put the Golden Knights up by four.
Veleno’s goal with 1:26 left provided the final margin, as Detroit dropped its third straight.
“I thought we were getting better over the course of the last week and a half,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “We lost coverage on some stuff we talked about in the pregame and we made some mistakes and they ended up in the net.”
NOTES: Vegas forward Nic Roy played in his 100th career game. ... Twelve different skaters registered points for the Golden Knights. ... Greiss remained one win from 150 in his career. ... Detroit rookie D Moritz Seider limped off the ice with five minutes left after taking a puck off his right knee. Blashill did not have an immediate update postgame. ... The Red Wings are three wins from 3,000 in franchise history.
Detroit: Visits Arizona on Saturday.
Vegas: Hosts Columbus on Saturday.