The Golden Knights embarked on their first road trip of the season with the hope of avenging what was a dismal performance in their home opener. In their first game of the road trip against the Minnesota Wild, the Knights did just that. Despite only winning by a score of 2-1 by way of a shootout, Vegas played a solid game that, had it not been for the stellar play of Wild netminder Devan Dubnyk, could have resulted in a rout.
However, things have gone downhill fast since their stop in Saint Paul.
The Golden Knights have now dropped three straight games, beginning with a 4-2 loss against the Buffalo Sabres and back-to-back losses against the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, respectively, within a 24-hour span.
The Knights now have a 1-4-0 record on the young season, and things won’t be getting much easier as they travel to Philadelphia on Saturday to take on the same Flyers team that trampled them in the season opener.
Luck has not been on Vegas’ side
You know that old saying “You have to be lucky to be good and good to be lucky?” Well, that certainly holds true for the Golden Knights, but not in a good way. While the Knights certainly haven’t been abysmal over their last three games, they’ve been quite far from good. And right now, Vegas hasn’t benefitted from any luck whatsoever.
Vegas’ scarcity of luck was almost comical in the 5-2 loss against the Capitals. Not only did the Knights hit iron numerous times throughout the contest, but when they finally did manage to get things clicking offensively, a goal that could have shifted the game’s momentum was negated by a missed offside call.
That pattern continued Thursday night against the Penguins. Despite badly outshooting Pittsburgh 37-22, Vegas only managed to find twine twice against Casey DeSmith, a 27-year-old goaltender thrust into the spotlight following a concussion to regular Pens netminder Matt Murray.
Of course, quality is far more important than quantity in regard to shot attempts. Inexplicably, though, the Golden Knights managed to create a healthy amount of high-danger scoring chances against Pittsburgh. As luck would have it, however, even that wasn’t enough to pull out a win in the Steel City.
Make no mistake about it; things certainly haven’t been going the Golden Knights’ way recently. However, that’s not to say that they haven’t deserved to lose their last three contests.
Vegas’ defense continues to struggle
When Nate Schmidt was suspended for the Golden Knights’ first 20 games as a result of violating the NHL’s PED policy, it became obvious that the Vegas blue line would have its work cut out to begin the season. And so far, the Vegas defense has been nothing short of a complete disaster.
Defensemen Jon Merrill and Nick Holden, who currently make up Vegas’ third defensive pairing, have absorbed the bulk of the blame for Vegas’ rough start. And that’s not necessarily undeserved. The duo has frequently been on the wrong side of key defensive breakdowns that have commonly resulted in goals for opposing teams throughout the season’s early going.
That said, though, they certainly aren’t the only ones struggling.
Thursday night, Pittsburgh badly exposed Vegas’ defensive pairing of Brayden McNabb and Colin Miller with a pair of nearly identical stretch passes directly down the center of the ice. On both occasions, speedy winger Phil Kessel blazed right past McNabb and Miller before going in all alone on Malcolm Subban to score a pair of easy breakaway goals (which would result in his first hat trick of the season).
McNabb and Miller got burned, and their struggles eventually resulted in Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant reconfiguring the defensive pairings to help resolve the issue. Unfortunately, it was too little too late at that point.
It’s easy to understand why one would be quick to point the finger at a single player, but the reality of the Golden Knights’ current situation is that no one on the Vegas blue line is playing well. And until the situation is remedied, the Golden Knights will continue to flounder.
The power play remains dormant
The Golden Knights’ 2018-19 season began eight days ago, and in the five games they’ve played thus far, they’ve yet to score a single goal on the man advantage. The Knights have had 13 opportunities on the power play this season, and they have nothing to show for it.
Vegas had the NHL’s 11th-best power play in the NHL this season, so the sudden inefficiency on the man advantage comes as a bit of a surprise. Aside from the occasional high-danger scoring chance, the Knights’ power play has looked largely disjointed. They’ve had issues making zone entries, and when they have been able to apply pressure, they’ve had difficulty maintaining it.
While going 0-for-13 on the power play to start the season is certainly a major issue, however, this appears to be more of an immediate issue than a long-term problem. The Golden Knights are one of five teams who have yet to score on the man advantage — the other teams are the Los Angeles Kings, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators and Wild. Each of those teams are regarded as some of the best in their respective conference, so clearly Vegas isn’t the only team starting the season off on the wrong foot.