LAS VEGAS (AP) — Max Pacioretty scored early in the second period, Marc-Andre Fleury made 30 saves and the Vegas Golden Knights beat the Colorado Avalanche 1-0 on Sunday.
Vegas, which improved to 5-1-0 since returning from a pause due to COVID-19 protocols, leapfrogged the St. Louis Blues to reclaim first place in the West Division. The Golden Knights are one point ahead of St. Louis with 21.
Vegas was playing on the second of back-to-back days after a 3-1 win at San Jose on Saturday.
Colorado played for the first time in nearly two weeks after its schedule was paused due to coronavirus protocols.
Fleury, who has allowed two or fewer goals in seven of his eight starts this season, improved to 12-5-2 lifetime against the Avalanche.
Colorado netminder Philipp Grubauer, who had played nine of Colorado’s first 11 games, didn’t appear to be affected by the team’s pause. He was sharp in making 23 saves.
His only glitch came early in the second period, when Zach Whitecloud sent a long pass to Pacioretty, who gathered the puck, raced to the top of the right circle and fired a wrist shot to Grubauer’s short side, just under his glove. It was Pacioretty’s seventh goal of the season.
Whitecloud has three points over his past five games and has been even or positive in the plus-minus category in each of his past 11 games since Jan. 16.
“Obviously, we practice things day in and day out, have systems in place that allow guys to make plays and allow for guys to know where all the teammates are on the ice at once and a big part of that is chemistry,” Whitecloud said. “I think a bigger part of that is communication. We have a group that’s very familiar with each other, very comfortable with each other, and we all know what our jobs are.”
That familiarity has helped the Golden Knights become a diverse bunch capable of riding out high-scoring or low-scoring games — they’ve played eight games where both sides combined for at least six goals, and five more where they combined for four or fewer.
“I think this team is built to compete any way you want to play the game,” Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said. “If you want to have a physical, grind-it-out, 1-0 game, we can play that game. We can also skate and score if we need to on a given night if it’s going to be a more open game.
“I think we know come playoff time that the majority of games are going to look a lot more like tonight than they are the six-, seven-goal games you’ve seen in the first dozen. The fact that we did that tonight, and won, that’s a good sign.”
Pacioretty’s goal was all Vegas would need. Fleury completed his second shutout of the season and the 63rd of his career, moving him within one of Henrik Lundqvist for 16th on the career list.
Colorado’s shutdown began after playing Minnesota on Feb. 3 when five Wild players went onto the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol. Avalanche forward Tyson Jost, who played all three games against the Wild, went on the list Feb. 3, captain Gabriel Landeskog was added the following day, and defenseman Samuel Girard joined the list Feb. 7. Colorado missed five games during its COVID-19 stoppage.
“We were missing our legs a little bit, you could tell even just with talking with the guys during the game and postgame, we didn’t have the extra pop in our legs that we needed to create a few more chances,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. “The last little bit of execution. I think our minds were in the right place, I think we’re trying to do the right things. … We just didn’t execute the way we’re capable of, that last 10% of execution that we needed to create the scoring chances.”
If there was one positive from the Avalanche’s time off, it was allowing Nathan MacKinnon, Devon Toews and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare time to recover from lower-body injuries. All three were back on the ice Sunday.
For Colorado, Brandon Saad played in his 600th career game, while Valeri Nichushkin skated in his 300th NHL contest. … Fleury is now two wins from his 100th with Vegas.
The teams continue their four-game set in Las Vegas on Tuesday, before playing the third of four games at Lake Tahoe on Feb. 20 and the finale in Denver on Feb. 22.
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