The Vegas Golden Knights should write the Florida Panthers a thank you letter. Thanks to Florida’s incompetence, the Golden Knights have an All-Star head coach in Gerard Gallant and two forwards who probably should have been All-Stars in Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith.
Gallant, Marchessault and Smith have already exacted revenge on their former team once this season when Vegas scored five unanswered goals to defeat the Panthers 5-2 at the T-Mobile Arena in December, but Friday night would be a bit different.
For the first time since being dumped by the Panthers, the trio returned to Sunrise in an effort to beat Florida in its own arena. And they weren’t playing for just bragging rights, either. With a win over Florida, the Golden Knights would sit atop the NHL standings. As an expansion team. In its inaugural season.
You’d think the Golden Knights would come out the gate firing on all cylinders, but it was actually Florida, who was returning from a six-day break, to get the better of Vegas early on.
The Panthers opened up the scoring less than four minutes in after Jamie McGinn backhanded a loose puck past Malcolm Subban to give Florida the one-goal lead.
After being totally outplayed for the majority of the first period, Vegas finally managed to get on the board thanks to a nifty defensive play by Erik Haula. In an attempt to pick up a loose puck, Vincent Trocheck had the puck tipped past him and Haula was off to the races. He then sent a cross-ice pass to David Perron (even though it may have been intended for Brad Hunt), who got it past James Reimer to knot the game back up.
It wouldn’t take Florida long to reclaim the lead, though. And they did it shorthanded. An overaggressive Hunt let Trocheck get past him, who nearly scored himself, but Subban made an acrobatic save to keep the puck out of the net. However, Aleksander Barkov was nearby to clean up the mess, scoring his fifth shorthanded goal of the season.
Though Vegas led in shots after 20 minutes, Florida made the most of their scoring chances (and Vegas’ leaky defense) to keep the Golden Knights at bay.
Vegas didn’t get off to a great start in the second period, either. The Golden Knights’ faulty defense allowed far too many odd-man rushes and Subban had to bail them out numerous times.
Despite giving up a lot of quality chances in the middle third, strangely enough, it was the Golden Knights who would score the lone goal of the second period. Shea Theodore joined the rush and found William Karlsson uncovered at point-blank range. And you know how that movie ends.
Just when it seemed like Vegas had momentum on its side, the Panthers came roaring back to take the lead early in the third period. Barkov shot a puck on net the was initially stopped by Subban, but Evgenii Dadonov knocked the rebound past the goal line. Not a lot Subban could have done here.
With time dying down in the period, Vegas needed a big play from one of their top scorers to even then game back up. And it was James Neal who delivered during clutch time. After taking a soft dish from Haula, Neal sashayed his way through the offensive zone and sniped one from the right faceoff circle. Absolutely filthy.
Neal’s goal would send the contest into overtime. But once again, as they’d done all night long, the Panthers held off the Golden Knights and reclaimed the lead, thanks to Aaron Ekblad. Despite the late surge, Vegas would leave Sunrise with a 4-3 overtime loss.
This certainly wasn’t the greatest performance we’ve seen from the Golden Knights this season. The defense was leaky all night, which proved to break Vegas in the end. Maybe the team was exhausted after beating a tough Tampa Bay Lightning team Thursday night, but this is not a loser point the Golden Knights should be happy with.
Once again, the Golden Knights failed to convert on any of their power play opportunities. As a matter of fact, the Panthers made more of an impact shorthanded than Vegas did while on the mad advantage. Things have not been working out for the Golden Knights’ power play and it’s become a major problem.
Vegas’ next opportunity to get back in the winning column will come Sunday against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh. Depending on the result of Tampa Bay’s game against the Minnesota Wild, Vegas could once again be in position to overtake the top spot in the league standings.