After a dominant win over the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday, the Vegas Golden Knights returned to T-Mobile Arena to take on a struggling St. Louis Blues team that currently sits at the bottom of the Central Division standings.
Strangely enough, though, the Blues tend to play quite well against the Golden Knights. They’ve now earned at least one point in each of their five contests against the Knights (3-0-2), including their 4-1 victory over Vegas on Friday.
Despite the loss, it was actually the Knights who managed to get on the board first when forward William Carrier took advantage of a Carl Gunnarsson gaffe at center ice and broke loose to beat Jake Allen one-on-one.
Much to the chagrin of the Knights, however, it was all St. Louis from that point on.
Just 38 seconds after Carrier’s tally, Blues forward Ryan O’Reilly knotted the game up with some slick stickhandling in front of the Vegas net. Later in the second period, O’Reilly scored his second of the contest before Brayden Schenn and Oskar Sundqvist scored an additional pair of goals to give St. Louis the comfortable three-goal lead. For those keeping count, Vegas allowed four unanswered goals in the span of about a period and a half.
With a full 20 minutes to get things back on track, the Knights failed to generate much offense and ended up spending much of the third period in their own zone, thanks in large part to three penalties in the final frame. It was a solid effort turned sloppy as the game progressed, and it ended up costing Vegas two big points.
Perron returns to Vegas
Forward David Perron was back at T-Mobile Arena for the first time since Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. This time, of course, he was playing for the opposing team. But still, it was a special night for the 30-year-old winger, though he was held off the scoresheet.
“It was fun,” said Perron after the game. “It was fun from the warmup on to the last minute there. Obviously a lot of energy in this crowd and it’s always fun to be here.”
When asked if the Knights have been playing a game different from what he experienced during his time in Vegas, Perron simply responded, “I’m not going there.” However, he did provide some encouraging words for Vegas as they look to get back into the Pacific race.
“They’re playing good hockey. It’s unfortunate, some of the results they’ve had, but they’re getting some guys back. Nate [Schmidt]’s coming back soon, so good on them. I hope they have success from here.”
Penalty kill tested often, but remains effective
Vegas played an ugly game in just about every area Friday night, but the Golden Knights’ penalty kill continued its recent success, killing off each of St. Louis’ four opportunities on the man advantage.
The Knights have now successfully killed off 22 of the last 23 enemy power plays they’ve faced, dating all the way back to Nov. 3. The penalty kill has been perfect in six of Vegas’ last seven games, with the lone power-play goal coming against the Boston Bruins — a gorgeous tic-tac-toe goal from David Pastrnak on the two-man advantage.
Through 20 games, the Golden Knights are now ranked third in the NHL with a downright stellar PK% of 86.4. In what has been an up-and-down month for the Knights, the penalty kill has been the one area that’s remained effective through thick and thin.
Sundqvist Vegas’ kryptonite?
Few players on St. Louis’ roster have had as much success against the Knights as 24-year-old forward Oskar Sundqvist this season. In the Blues’ two games against Vegas, Sundqvist has netted three of his four goals on the season.
So why is it that Sundqvist, who averages just 10:22 of ice time per game, seems to play so well against the Golden Knights? Maybe it’s because of his days in Pittsburgh, where he played with Fleury for two years.
“I know him pretty well from practicing with him for a couple years,” said Sundqvist. “I think in Pittsburgh I never scored on him during practice, so now I got three on him. It’s nice.”
From an analytics perspective, Sundqvist was actually a bit of a liability offensively Friday night. His 29.17 Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5 was the worst of all Blues skaters against the Knights. But sometimes, the advanced statistics simply don’t matter. He’s been hot against Vegas, and that’s part of the reason why St. Louis ended up getting two points.
Consistency becoming an issue
The early going of Vegas’ 2018-19 campaign has certainly been a roller coaster ride. Coming off a rough eastern road trip, the Knights looked to have gotten back on track against the Ducks Wednesday night. But against St. Louis, they reverted back to the sloppy play that’s plagued them throughout their first 20 games.
Thus far, the Knights’ longest winning streak of the season remains at three games. Their longest losing streak of the season also sits at three games. Vegas has been unable to win games in regularity, and that’s naturally starting to frustrate some players.
“Consistency is probably the biggest thing,” said Marc-Andre Fleury. “Pretty good first, I thought we played solid and had some chances. Once we were down in the game, I feel like we slowed down a bit. It’s just frustrating to not be able to string a few wins together and get a few points, get up in the standings a bit. I feel embarrassed to have given up so many goals and lose so much.”
Schmidt’s suspension is over
While the Knights let their 20th game of the season get away from them, there is some good news that comes along with it — defenseman Nate Schmidt’s 20-game suspension is finally over, and he will be eligible to return Sunday when Vegas takes on the Edmonton Oilers in Rogers Place.
Schmidt, 27, had his best campaign to date last season. In 76 games, the Minnesota native registered five goals and 36 points while playing heavy minutes both on the power play and penalty kill. Schmidt is far and away the most important defenseman on Vegas’ back end, and having him back in the fold will certainly give the Knights a much-needed boost.
“He is one of our best players, so he is going to make a difference out on the ice,” said Knights head coach Gerard Gallant. “He is always a solid guy, he moves the puck, skates well, you know what kind of player he is. He is a big part of our group and hopefully he’s going to make a big difference.”