Seven wins in nine games, and suddenly this team may be on to something.
Paul Cotter did Paul Cotter things.
It’s a proclamation that’s been made many times over, and in his second NHL game, it came to fruition.
Cotter scored his first NHL goal, followed by fellow rookie Jonas Rondbjerg in the first period, and the Vegas Golden Knights withstood a third-period rally from the Minnesota Wild for a 3-2 victory; their seventh in nine games.
“Being in Vegas is a treat,” Cotter said. “This arena is crazy. I think when you score that first one, you kind of zone out and you’re in a daze a little bit. You still hear the roar of the crowd when you’re skating back to the bench. It’s a feeling you can’t describe.”
What exactly are “Paul Cotter things,” you’re probably asking yourself?
From the moment he was drafted in the fourth round in 2018 by the Golden Knights, Cotter has been one of those players you look forward to watching during training camp. His effort was always on display. It seemed like he was always the first to every puck. His forecheck popped each time; there would be two or three times during every other practice you’d catch Cotter cherry-picking in the neutral zone and setting himself up for a scoring chance.
And as the years went on, you’d wonder if that would ever translate to the NHL level. Last season with AHL Henderson, Cotter had only 16 points in 38 games and was considered a bottom-six grinder on a Silver Knights group that seemed to have a lot of talent up front.
Coming into training camp this season, Cotter got more of a look from the Vegas side. He scored in Vegas’ preseason opener, a 4-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks. That offensive display, along with solid play in the defensive zone, gave Cotter an opportunity. He made his NHL debut on Tuesday. His family got the call Tuesday morning, found out before Cotter did that he was drawing into the lineup at fourth-line right wing; he had one shot in 8:23.
Thursday was a different animal. Cotter took a pass from Nic Hague from the defensive blue line and walked in through the neutral zone. He took a stutter step on defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, went backhand to forehand and roofed it stick side on Cam Talbot at 6:08 of the first for a 1-0 lead.
“That’s my default move,” Cotter said. “I’ve done it a few times in my career, so I was comfortable doing that.”
Cotter had his mom, dad, sister and brother in town for his debut Tuesday against the Seattle Kraken but the family couldn’t make stay for the second game. If only they waited a little longer. At least it would’ve taken a flight back to see Cotter do it.
Whereas Jonas Rondbjerg’s parents were in Denmark, likely sleeping at 4:30 a.m. when the third-round pick from 2017 made it 2-0 at 16:41 of the first. Rondbjerg avoided a pinch along the half wall from Alex Goligoski, drove toward the net and beat Talbot for his first big-league goal.
It capped off a first period where the Golden Knights dominated 16-5 in the shot department. But the Wild looked like a team playing the second night of a back-to-back, while the Golden Knights looked like a unit that’s been playing its best hockey and found the formula to do it without Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, William Karlsson, Zach Whitecloud and Nolan Patrick.
Through this stretch of wins in seven of nine games, the Golden Knights have needed to find different ways to win. Most nights it’s been Robin Lehner standing on his head, going from right to left and lunging at the goal line. Thursday was Laurent Brossoit’s turn for his second start in three games.
Pete DeBoer said he did Brossoit a disservice for only starting him in two of the first 13 games. After Brossoit willed the Golden Knights to a 3-2 overtime win in Dallas on Oct. 27, the goalie didn’t see another start until this past Sunday, a 5-2 loss at Detroit where he allowed four goals.
“He had that great first game for us in Dallas, and then he probably went another 10 days, two weeks before starting again in Detroit, and that wasn’t fair to him,” DeBoer said. “I felt that I wanted to get him back in there after the Detroit game to get him a chance to get his legs under him.”
After a quiet first period, Brossoit saw 14 shots in the second. Five of them came on a 5-on-3 that lasted, in total, 1:39 because Hague and Alex Pietrangelo were called for delay of game penalties 21 seconds apart.
The Vegas PK, which has seen some struggles without its top penalty killers, killed the two-man advantage for the Wild. Brossoit stopped a one-timer in front from Joel Eriksson Ek, Minnesota’s most dangerous chance. The Golden Knights’ penalty kill went 6-for-6 on Thursday.
“I thought our PK was really, really good,” Brossoit said. “They were moving it pretty well, but I thought our guys cut off seams really well.”
DeBoer said the backbone behind the Golden Knights’ 8-6-0 start has come off the back of goaltending and veteran leadership. He’s not wrong, per se. Had it not been for Lehner, Vegas wouldn’t be where it’s at right now. And if not for Jonathan Marchessault, where would the scoring have come from?
Marchessault extended his point streak to five games and scored his fifth goal in five games on a play that’s come accustomed to the Misfits. Reilly Smith forced a turnover on Matt Dumba with time winding down in the period to create a 2-on-1. Smith dished it to Marchessault, took his time and sniped it top left past Talbot for a 3-0 lead with seven seconds left in the second.
The importance of that goal is paramount given how the Wild came back to draw within a goal from tallies by Jared Spurgeon and Ryan Hartman. Minnesota was gifted a chance to tie it with 1:03 left, having a 6-on-4 because of Marchessault’s tripping penalty, but nothing came of it.
“We take a ton of pride in [the penalty kill],” Brayden McNabb said. “It’s been off and on as of late, and we wanted to fix it. I thought we did a great job tonight. LB played awesome.”
The Golden Knights are trying to scrape by without their big names, but could be down another Saturday due to the status of Alec Martinez. The defenseman took a skate to the face midway through the first period, resulting in an “ugly, ugly cut” that DeBoer said required, at least, 50 stitches.
William Carrier, who had been playing in the top six, missed the game due to an undisclosed injury and his status, also is unknown.
“Wouldn’t be us if we didn’t have another guy out,” DeBoer said this morning.
Tell that to the team that’s two games over .500 and keep finding ways to win.