Smith leads Golden Knights to 6-3 win over Canadiens
LAS VEGAS (AP) — It was a great time for Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley to visit the locker room after their latest win.
The Golden Knights had just beaten one of the NHL’s Original Six teams, set another record for an expansion team in its inaugural season, and they also leapfrogged the Tampa Bay Lightning for the top spot in the NHL standings with 82 points.
Reilly Smith had two goals and an assist to lead Vegas to a 6-3 win over the struggling Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night.
“It’s fantastic for us, it’s fantastic for the team, it’s fantastic for the fans — I love it,” Foley said. “It’s really unbelievable and I wish Reilly would have gotten that last goal for a hat trick, because he deserves it.”
Foley admitted when the season started he didn’t think he’d be doing interviews this late in the season, but with his team clearly headed to the playoffs, he didn’t mind fielding questions.
“I knew we had a good team,” Foley said. “When we did the expansion draft, it was a lot of hard work, and we put a lot of planning into it. We had five mock draft sessions in the expansion draft. We knew what we were getting. The result is what we have.”
What Vegas has, is a team that improved to 22-4-2 at T-Mobile Arena, matching the 1979-80 Hartford Whalers (22-12-6) for the most home wins by a team in its first season.
Since their 3-2 loss in Montreal on Nov. 7, the Golden Knights are 30-10-3 while the Canadiens are 15-21-6.
Brad Hunt, Tomas Nosek, Ryan Carpenter, Nate Schmidt also scored for Vegas, while Jonathan Marchessault had three assists. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 30 shots, including a highlight-reel glove save on Charles Hudon skating in on a breakaway in the third period, to improve to 19-6-2.
“We just want to play the same way that’s made us successful and keep going forward and not kind of relax a bit, we just want to stay with it,” Hunt said. “We still got a lot of work to do. We just take it day by day, we’re not looking too far forward.”
Hudon, Nikita Scherbak and Jonathan Drouin scored for Montreal. Antti Niemi started and gave up three goals on six shots before being replaced by Carey Price midway through the first period. Price, who came into the game having lost eight straight road games, finished with 24 saves.
Montreal, which fell to 2-5-1 this month, has the league’s worst road record at 8-19-1. The Canadiens have lost 11 of their last 12 away from home and have been outscored 41-16 during the slide.
“It’s always tough when you lose,” Scherbak said. “We’re trying to stick together. We have a great group of guys here, everybody supports each other, and nobody is happy to lose.”
Smith got the scoring going with his seventh power-play goal of the season after taking Schmidt’s pass and one-time a laser past Niemi 2:16 into the game.
The Golden Knights scored with the man advantage for the 12th time in 13 games, finishing 1 for 2 on the night. Vegas also improved to 24-3-0 when scoring the first goal of the game and their .889 win percentage when recording the opening mark leads the NHL.
“First goal has been huge for us this year,” Smith said. “Our record is pretty outstanding when we score the first one. But it’s teams like that, if you let them stay around, they’re the ones that are going to make you pay. Those leads are huge at the start and they help us out.”
Hudon tied it a couple of minutes later, as he skated past Hunt and used a nifty move to beat Fleury.
But Hunt made amends for losing Hudon down the boards when he drilled a slap shot from the point to put Vegas ahead. Nosek’s goal made it 3-1 and sent Niemi to the bench.
Scherbak got his first goal of the season to cut the lead to 3-2 with 8:13 left in the opening period.
Carpenter scored his fifth goal in seven games 3:07 into the second period, and Smith got his second of the game 37 seconds later to make it 5-2.
Schmidt got his fifth on a pass from Smith to give Vegas a four-goal lead four minutes into the third.
Just 13 seconds into a power play, Drouin fired a slap shot into the back of the net at 8:44 to close the scoring.
NOTES: Montreal D Joe Morrow played in his 100th career game, while F Paul Byron played in his 100th consecutive game. ... When Price entered the game he tied Patrick Roy for second in team history for most games played by a goalie. ... Canadiens C Tomas Plekanec moved into seventh place for the most games played in team history. ... Golden Knights defenseman Luca Sbisa is now one point away from 100 for his career.
Montreal: At Philadelphia on Tuesday.
Vegas: Hosts Anaheim on Monday.