Defensemen Colin Miller and Shea Theodore scored the only goals for the Vegas Golden Knights, but the inability to score with a man advantage cost them in a 4-2 preseason loss to the Colorado Avalanche at T-Mobile Arena on Thursday night.
In his first start in front of the Vegas crowd, Marc-Andre Fleury recorded only 18 saves and allowed all four goals on even strength. Theodore’s goal with 8:48 remaining in the third period cut the Colorado lead to 3-2, but Tyson Jost’s tap-in off a rebound with just over three minutes remaining was the dagger.
Mikko Rantanen and Sven Andrighetto also added goals for the Avalanche.
Here’s what we learned.
Shea Theodore might have just made the roster
The young defenseman has made his fair share of mistakes, as head coach Gerard Gallant will attest. He’s a young player who will do that from time to time.
But if the 22-year-old blue liner was looking for more validation as to making the Golden Knights’ roster on opening night, a subtle ringing endorsement from the head coach might suffice.
“I don’t know who had him on the bubble,” Gallant said after the game. “Shea’s played well and he’s a solid player. I think he’s played really well. He made some mistakes tonight and last game, but you’re going to see that from young players, especially young defensemen.”
So, there’s that.
You also won’t find any lack of confidence stemming from the former Anaheim Duck when asked about if he’s done enough to play in Dallas on Oct. 6.
“I feel like, so far, I’ve played some pretty good hockey, trying to force (George McPhee’s) hand and not send me to Chicago,” Theodore said, “but we have to be better as a whole.
“That’s not my call. I’ve come out to play every night. I think I’ve played well. Not perfect games by any means, but in terms of skating and moving the puck, that’s something I’ve come into camp to do and I’ve done it.”
The power play is a problem, but it’s preseason
Here’s something you don’t want to see with a man advantage — 0-for-16 in the last three games on the power play. That is the Golden Knights at this juncture, including an 0-for-7 showcase Thursday night.
Gallant attributed it to being many factors — an expansion team with teammates still getting used to playing with each other, a typical night of hockey, etc.
But with the way referees have called penalties in this exhibition campaign, capitalizing on the man advantage is imperative. This isn’t an attempt to discredit Semyon Varlamov and his 24-save performance, but more of a credit to the Colorado defense and not allowing many shots.
“We had a lot of good pucks on net,” said forward Jonathan Marchessault. “(You) have to credit that goalie, he played well. There are nights it’s going to go in. 0-for-7 is not good enough for the group. We need to have a good power play, and that’s going to be important for us.”
Gallant said the power play improved later in the game when the Golden Knights took more shots from the point, but there were many instances of the puck not sticking. Too many chances were left on the board.
“We tried to make the fancy plays and we weren’t shooting the puck. When you do that, establish the point shot, some of the seams open up. The puck was bouncing a lot, and we didn’t get a lot of good looks early on.”
Penalty kill was really good again, but...
Not much goes right for the PK unit if all goals are at even strength. Vegas had another strong 0-for-4 penalty killing session, but all that was for naught considering how inefficient the Golden Knights were on the power play — coupled with playing over-aggressive defense.
“I feel like, in some instances, we were trying to be too antsy,” Theodore said. “When we didn’t have full control of the puck in the zone, I felt like we were kind of jumping in and that’s something we need to clean up.”
Gallant added that just comes with the territory of the game.
“We’re an expansion team, we’re going to get better,” Gallant said. “We’re going to give up 5-on-5 goals. We made a couple of mistakes, we’ll try to correct them. That’s hockey.”
Gallant is right. It’s preseason. From the outside perspective, there comes a time where reminding to dial back expectations is essential. The roster is coming into form, as evidenced by the last two games. There will be an adjustment period. Vadim Shipachyov needs to shoot more. Other Golden Knights need to know when to shoot the puck when they have a clear view. Things like that happen. It’s a matter of when they’ll come together.
Rough night for Marc-Andre Fleury
It was his first game in front of his new home crowd, and Fleury got the biggest ovation of everyone when starters were announced. But it was a rough going for Fleury, giving up four goals on a night where Colorado only took 22 shots on goal.
“I was hoping for a better first game here, wish it could’ve been a win for sure,” Fleury said. “It’s still preseason you know, still things to keep working on. I thought our team played hard until the end and gave us a chance to come back into the game. My first game here, the atmosphere was fun.”
Gallant confirmed Fleury will play in Sunday’s preseason finale against the San Jose Sharks, citing this was the plan all along.
If we’re staying in the lane of not overtly exaggerating preseason expectations, then there’s nothing to worry with Fleury. He’s had a lot of time off in game action. He’ll only have three preseason games under his belt before the Dallas game, and he hasn’t played a meaningful game since May. It’ll take him some time to get back to his old form.
The Golden Knights close the preseason at home against the Sharks at 5 p.m. AT&T SportsNet will have the game.