The Golden Knights entered Friday’s game as the only remaining undefeated team in the NHL after the Washington Capitals defeated the 3-0 New Jersey Devils earlier in the night.
Unfortunately, the Knights were unable to retain that undefeated status as the team lost its first of the season in a 6-3 defeat at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings.
After a relatively uneventful first period, the second frame featured four goals, including three in the span of 1:41.
But the Red Wings’ third-period push was too much for Vegas to bear as the team committed turnover after turnover, leading to what felt like an endless number of odd-man rushes for Detroit.
Tonight’s pregame ceremony (originally planned for the home opener) introduced fans to the team’s mascot, Chance the Gila Monster. An introductory video reminiscent of an epic video game prologue set the tone early. The narration spoke of the golden sword whose protection “has long been entrusted to an elite order: the Golden Knights. Known for valor, honor and strength, they are the epitome of the warrior class.” This was followed by an on-ice demonstration of a Golden Knight pulling the sword from a section of rock at center ice.
Though the Golden Knights were unable to come out of tonight victorious, there are still 78 battles left to be fought.
Here’s how tonight’s game played out.
The first period was a story of missed opportunities, as Cody Eakin, William Karlsson and Brendan Leipsic missed prime scoring chances in front of Detroit netminder Petr Mrazek.
It was Detroit that struck first, though, as the Wings grabbed an early lead less than two minutes into the game. Jason Garrison fanned on a bouncing puck at the blue line, which sent Henrik Zetterberg and Gustav Nyquist down the ice on a 2-on-1. Nyquist scored his first of the season just 1:38 into the game on a shifty cross-ice dish from Zetterberg. Marc-Andre Fleury had no chance on the play.
From there the Knights controlled play for most of the period, out-shooting Detroit 9-6.
Reilly Smith drew a penalty cutting to the net at 7:55 of the frame, but Vegas was unable to capitalize. Eakin had a great chance in front on a bang-bang play from David Perron but missed wide. Later in the period Leipsic had a wide-open net but shanked it well wide. Oscar Lindberg had a chance as well, but Mrazek held down the fort.
Detroit escaped the first period without giving up a goal for the fifth straight game as the Wings led 1-0 after 20.
In a wild second period replete with back-and-forth action, the Knights lit the lamp three times and looked more like the high-flying Knights from the first three games of the season. Two players found twine for the first time this season as the team delivered 20 minutes of fast-paced, energetic and exciting hockey.
After a strong first period, the top line kept pushing and eventually connected on a beautiful play by Smith, who stole the puck in Detroit’s zone and sent a backhand feed to the wide-open Jonathan Marchessault in front. Marchessault, who scored a career-high 30 goals last season, put away his first of the year as the Knights tied the game 1-1 at 8:12 of the second.
But a scare came just a few minutes later as Fleury took a knee to the head from 6-foot-5 Anthony Mantha as he drove to the net. Fortunately, after staying down for a few seconds Fleury was able to get to his feet. Though backup Malcolm Subban went to the tunnel to start stretching, Fleury was able to stay in the game. It’s moments like this that remind us just how vital Fleury is to this team and its chances of success.
Not long after, an ugly-looking play helped the Wings re-claim the lead as Zetterberg found himself in alone after two Knights defensemen collided. Schmidt sent a bouncing puck across the zone, forcing Luca Sbisa to take a hit to make a play. The hit, a crushing blow delivered by Luke Glendening that sent Sbisa and his helmet flying, led to a series of events that resulted in Zetterberg’s strike. As Sbisa was getting back into the play, Schmidt over-committed while going after Darren Helm, who had just jumped onto the ice and was carrying the puck into the zone. But the puck made its way through both Knights defensemen, which set Zetterberg up with time and space. He converted on a nice forehand-backhand deke as he slid the puck under Fleury’s pads.
It was a deflating goal given the circumstances. But have no fear, folks: the Real Deal is here.
Just 32 seconds after Detroit took a 2-1 lead, Perron found James Neal parked at Mrazek’s back door, and Neal did what Neal does best: put the puck in the back of the net. There was a new level of energy in the air as Neal delivered his sixth of the season.
In what was the most exciting stretch of the game, both teams traded chances back and forth.
But it would only take 1:27 for Vegas to grab its first lead of the night. In fitting fashion, Sbisa got right back out there and sent a high shot from the point, which Erik Haula deflected for his first tally of the year. In what felt like a blink of an eye, the Knights scored twice to take a 3-2 lead. Leipsic grabbed the secondary assist on the go-ahead goal.
The Knights carried the 3-2 lead and the momentum into the locker room.
But the third period was all Detroit.
In fact, the Red Wings were so dominant that even an octopus found its way onto the ice, the same ice that appeared tilted as Detroit carried the play from the minute the puck dropped. After several shifts of sustained pressure in the Knights’ zone, the Red Wings were rewarded as Mantha scored from the slot at 4:42. Mantha’s third of the season was Detroit’s third of the game, and it would be the first of four unanswered third-period goals for the Wings.
After a brief delay courtesy of the octopus, Frans Nielsen took an interference call, which led to a Knights power play at 4:55.
This would prove to lead to the turning point of the game.
Though Colin Miller hit the cross-bar on the man advantage, it was the same old story as Vegas continued its struggles on the power play. This allowed the Red Wings to scoop up all of the momentum, and Detroit never gave any of it back. Just eight seconds after the conclusion of Vegas’ power play, Zetterberg grabbed his third assist and fourth point of the night on a give-and-go to Nielsen, fresh out of the box, as the Wings took a 4-3 lead at 7:03.
The rest was downhill from there.
The Nyquist-Mantha-Zetterberg combo was not finished, as Nyquist grabbed his second of the game at 10:49 on a costly turnover by Perron. Fleury made a great stop on Mantha but was unable to secure the rebound as Nyquist jammed it in to give Detroit its first two-goal lead of the game.
Yet another Knights turnover led to the back-breaking goal for the Red Wings. Lindberg was the guilty party this time as Glendening scored his second of the year to give Detroit a 6-3 lead at the 14:56 mark. This is one Fleury would like to have back, and it sealed the deal on a night the entire Golden Knights roster would like to have back.
In the end, the Wings scored four goals on 12 shots in the third period after Fleury and the Knights surrendered just four goals in the team’s previous three games combined.
The Knights were outshot 2:1 (12-6) in the third period, though both teams finished the night with 27.
It was an incomplete and sloppy effort by the Knights in what was a winnable game. The team committed 10 official giveaways, but it felt like more; Leipsic led the way with four of his own. What’s even more concerning, though, is that Fleury made a number of stellar saves to bail out his teammates; otherwise, this could have been more of a blowout. But that’s what Fleury is there for. His teammates didn’t help him out too much tonight with the turnovers, blown coverages and odd-man rushes, but he needs to be better as well. He made just 21 saves on the night, good for a .778 save percentage.
That being said, one question that has to be asked is whether Fleury should have been in the game at all after the collision with Mantha.
Las Vegas Sun reporter Jesse Granger tweeted after the game about Fleury’s response when asked about the play. His answer was...concerning.
Fleury on if he was hurt on the play in the 2nd period- "I don't know. We will see tomorrow."— Jesse Granger (@JesseGranger_) October 14, 2017
It’s hard to believe the Knights would risk the team’s most important player, even if the undefeated 3-0 record was on the line. However, is it possible that the knee to the head could have affected his play? As Fleury said, we will see tomorrow.
But there are some positive things the Knights can take from this game.
For one thing, Neal kept his goal-scoring streak alive with his sixth goal of the year. For another, both Marchessault and Haula netted their first tallies of the season. This could be especially significant for Marchessault, who was unable to find twine in the team’s first three games after last year’s career performance. Additionally, both Lindberg and Eakin were strong offensively. Though they were unable to convert, they each registered three shots on goal and found themselves around the net and involved in the play. Plus, after tonight’s game, only three players on the roster have yet to find the scoresheet; everyone except for Karlsson, Miller and William Carrier has now recorded at least one point.
No matter how disappointing tonight may have been, it’s important to remember what this team has already accomplished. Vegas is the first expansion team in league history to get off to a 3-0 start, and the team still finds itself at the top of the Pacific Division standings.
Vegas can learn from tonight but must move on quickly. The team is set to face Boston this Sunday at T-Mobile Arena. You can bet the Knights will come out flying, as the rest of the season is up for grabs.