Published Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024 | 9:36 p.m.
Updated 19 minutes ago
Human nature says it takes time for players to adjust after missing time due to injury. It normally takes a game, maybe two, before getting acclimated to the pace of the game.
This does not apply to Adin Hill at the moment.
The Golden Knights goalie has not missed a beat since returning from a two-month absence prior to the All-Star break. While it helped to have the last week off, Hill picked up right where he left off on Tuesday with 30 saves in the Golden Knights’ 3-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers at T-Mobile Arena, and ended the Oilers’ 16-game winning streak.
“It felt like a playoff game,” said Hill, who finished an entire game at home for the first time since Nov. 10. “It was loud, it was exciting. Fans were into it.”
Hill was already on an elite level before a lower-body injury took him out from late November to late January, with one start on Dec. 17 that lasted minutes before re-aggravating the injury. He’s the only goalie who’s made at least 15 starts and has a goals-against average less than 2.00.
In his last three starts since returning, Hill has reached another apex: 3-0, .955 save percentage, 1.67 goals allowed, 5.33 goals save above average.
Tuesday was his best.
The only goal Hill allowed was a shorthanded 2-on-0 against Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. Not even the most legendary goalie could stop that tandem.
The rest of Hill’s night was his usual calm self. The Oilers tried packing the blue paint, but his rebound control was precise. There were hardly any second chances off his initial saves.
Sprinkled in-between were massive highlight-reel saves that might be goals if Edmonton played any other opponent, including a pad save on a backdoor one-timer from Draisaitl in the third period to keep it a 2-1 game.
The crowd of 18,000-plus was not slight on the Oiler contingent. The heavy road crowd was covered with Oiler orange, wanting to see their team tie the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins for the longest win streak in NHL history. More so, Edmonton had a chance to do it on the ice against the team that ended their season in the playoffs last year.
But the Golden Knights (30-15-6) claim they weren’t focused on wanting to end that winning streak. They wanted to build on the 6-2-1 stretch they had before going into the All-Star break. Though it started rocky, the Golden Knights put together one of their best defensive games in recent memory with Hill leading the way.
Chandler Stephenson and Nic Roy scored, and William Karlsson added an empty-net goal in his first game action since a lower-body injury during the Winter Classic in Seattle kept him out for the last month.
It’s the seventh time in the last 10 games the Golden Knights have given up two goals or fewer.
Hill said one way it’s helped him getting back into game shape is how intense the Golden Knights practice, which has allowed him to find a groove in that time.
“Every time in practice, they shoot and score,” Hill said. “You have to get that before getting into a game, and I think that helps.”
Hill said he didn’t change a lot in terms of his approach to staying ready when returning. He was supposed to come back Jan. 10 in Colorado but didn’t feel comfortable following morning skate.
It’s been able to get him extra work with goalie coach Sean Burke, and to ensure he was focusing on taking care of his body.
“I thought I was 100% that Ottawa game (on Dec. 17),” Hill said. “I felt nothing the eight practices, or whatever, before that. Felt no pain, and then five minutes into the game, right?”
The Golden Knights are not quite in the clear of returning to full health. What started with Hill’s return has at least kickstarted the process.
Karlsson, who was on injured reserve for the last month, had an impact defensively while matched up against McDavid. Defensemen Ben Hutton and Tobias Björnfot have begun skating and are inching close to a return.
It’s going to seem like a broken record to discuss the Golden Knights’ bill of health, but that’s the life of a defending champion where the obvious is known when they’re healthy; they’re as good as any team when at full strength. It alleviates the burden slightly when Hill plays like this.
“He was really good tonight,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “We don’t win the game without his performance.”
In a week where football’s best have gathered in Las Vegas for the Super Bowl, the Golden Knights are still the sports draw this time of year. Tuesday was as close to a regular season comparison for a big game as you could get.
The Golden Knights and Hill, as they’ve done before, delivered on the big stage again.
“The guy’s a pro,” Karlsson said. “He’s been great. He saved us there a couple times.”