LAS VEGAS (AP) — Golden Knights defenseman Jon Merrill entered Thursday night’s game against Philadelphia with 343 NHL games under his belt — and he had played every single one of them on the blue line.
He certainly made the most of his first appearance at forward.
Merrill got his first goal of the season from a new spot on the ice, Max Pacioretty scored twice and Vegas went on to a 5-4 victory over the Flyers.
“Anytime I’m in the lineup I’ll do anything — whether it’s forward, goalie, D, whatever it is. I’ll do anything for this team,” said Merrill, inserted at forward when first-line wing Jonathan Marchessault was scratched.
“There was a few times where I caught myself skating backwards and I caught myself I think out of position. We’re all hockey players and I think when you’re out there and you’re having fun, your instincts just kick in and I think that’s what happened a lot tonight.”
The Golden Knights improved to 14-6-3 since Nov. 17 and lead the NHL with 31 points in that span. Vegas maintained the top spot in the Pacific Division with 52 points, two more than Arizona
Shea Theodore and Cody Glass also scored for the Golden Knights. Marc-Andre Fleury made 34 saves, including a penalty shot, and improved to 30-19-2 against the Flyers, a team he faced often with Pittsburgh.
“As a goalie, it’s not an ideal situation getting all the goals scored on both sides, but you try to forget about (them) quickly, put it behind, and try to stop the next one and try to keep our team in the game,” Fleury said. “It’s such a good feeling at the end when you win those tough battles.”
Fleury has won his last three starts after struggling through a 5-5-2 stretch that included a 3.26 goals-against average and .895 save percentage.
Pacioretty, meanwhile, continued to make his case for an All-Star appearance. He’s on the ballot as one of the Pacific Division’s Last Men In.
“I felt maybe some time in my career it probably should’ve been there, but if it happens or not, either way I can’t control what happens,” Pacioretty said. “I’m just worrying about the team and contributing, and I feel happy about my play this season.”
Which has been exceptional, as he leads Vegas with 43 points (18 goals, 25 assists) and has at least one point in 11 of the last 12 games (eight goals, nine assists).
At the other end of the ice, Vegas’ penalty kill has also been stellar at 9 for 10 over the last three games.
The unit stymied a late Flyers power play that began 5-on-4 with 2:46 left and turned into a 6-on-3 edge on the ice with 1:29 remaining when defenseman Deryk Engelland was called for cross-checking and Philadelphia goalie Carter Hart was pulled.
“The three guys on the ice did an incredible job. They blocked some shots, they paid a price to win a hockey game, and that’s what you love to see from your team,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said.
Sean Couturier scored twice for the Flyers, who played their fourth game on a six-game road trip — with the first five against Pacific Division teams. Claude Giroux and Travis Konecny each had a goal for Philadelphia.
“First couple of shifts we dominated. Then we kind of let them back in,” Konecny said. “It’s not like they dominated us to the point where we couldn’t handle them. We were just looking for offense trying to get ourselves back in.”
Hart made 28 saves in his first start against the Golden Knights. The second-year goaltender is 7-12-1 lifetime on the road and 11-7-3 against Western Conference opponents.
“You know they come hard. That was in our pre-scout. They’re a fast team, they don’t like to play a lot of defense. They kind of like to play transition a lot,” Hart said.
In what was easily the most entertaining period of hockey the Golden Knights have played at home this season, there were six goals, 30 shots and a combined 30 hits in the first.
The highlight was Merrill’s goal. After slipping to both knees, he gathered a rebound of Nicolas Roy’s shot and used a nifty forehand-to-backhand move to beat Hart, sending the crowd of 18,415 into a frenzy.
Pacioretty had two goals in the period, Theodore also scored and the Golden Knights led 4-2 after one.
At the other end, Fleury did his share to fire up the crowd with a couple of highlight-reel saves, including one on Scott Laughton’s penalty shot. Giroux and Konecny scored for Philadelphia.
Glass and Couturier traded goals in the second to keep it a two-goal game. Couturier opened the third with a power-play goal to cut Vegas’ lead to 5-4.
Fleury delivered another outstanding save when he flashed some leather with a little more than six minutes left, robbing Giroux on a wrist shot from the circle with a beauty of a glove save.
NOTES: Vegas’ Mark Stone is the only player in the NHL with at least 50 takeaways and 30 points. … Giroux has a point in five straight games (two goals, three assists). … Marchessault missed his first game of the season. … Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner and 1988 World Series champion Orel Hershiser were in attendance.
Flyers: At the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday.
Golden Knights: Host the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues on Saturday.