The Golden Knights came into Monday night’s contest against the Calgary Flames feeling pretty good about themselves. And rightfully so. They had just defeated Connor McDavid’s Oilers quite convincingly, scoring five straight goals to eventually win the contest 6-3 on the road.
But maybe they were feeling a little too good about themselves.
In the second half of their back-to-back in Alberta, Vegas was handed their worst loss of the season, and maybe even the worst loss in its brief history as an NHL franchise. Calgary came out the gate swinging, scoring seven straight goals in a little over 24 minutes. For all intents and purposes, the game was over before the Knights even knew what hit them.
The first goal of the game was allowed largely due to broken coverage. With Johnny Gaudreau being pursued down low, Matthew Tkachuk was left all alone above the left faceoff circle, giving him a clear and easy shooting lane to open the scoring. Granted, Calgary was on a 5-on-4 power play, but it’s rare to see a skater this open, even with a one-man advantage.
A little later on, Gaudreau doubled the Calgary lead after Elias Lindholm breezed into the Vegas zone. Sean Monahan quickly joined the rush and set up a the trailing Gaudreau for an easy snipe from the high slot.
With about three minutes remaining in the opening period, the Knights once again left a Calgary skater completely uncovered in the adjacent faceoff circle. Tkachuk dished the puck to the wide-open Gaudreau, who then fed it back to Tkachuk for the shot. Though the shot went off the post, Monahan was waiting on the doormat for a rebound and easily redirected the puck into the net.
These are just three examples of numerous defensive breakdowns that led to the beatdown in Calgary. And if it weren’t for the halfway decent play of Malcolm Subban (even despite his putrid numbers), this game very easily could have gotten even more out of hand.
“We left Subban out to dry on almost every one of those goals,” said defenseman Nick Holden after the game. “Even with what we gave, he still had to make five or six unbelievable saves to not let any more in. Yes, you want to forget about it, but no, you need to make sure you’re learning from this game. We cannot have this happen again.”
Giveaways, giveaways, giveaways
While defensive breakdowns were the primary reason for this rout, the Golden Knights also struggled with giving the puck away. Far too often, an unadvised pass wound up resulting in a high-danger chance or, in some cases, a goal for Calgary.
Early in the first period, the Golden Knights were awarded a penalty after Calgary forward Juuso Valimaki was issued an interference minor. Midway through the ensuing power play, Knights forward Max Pacioretty attempted a pass to the sideboards that was intercepted by Flames forward Derek Ryan, resulting in a two-man shorthanded breakaway. Luckily Subban made a huge save to keep it a one-score game (though that obviously didn’t end up making much of a difference).
A little later in the opening period, another turnover did end up resulting in a goal when defenseman Shea Theodore backhanded a pass that hopped over Cody Eakin’s stick. Gaudreau then recovered the loose puck and dished it to Monahan, who one-timed it past Subban for his second of three points on the night.
Vegas finished the night with a whopping 30 (!) giveaways. For reference, they only gave the puck away seven times in their 6-3 victory over the Oilers on Sunday. And though Calgary ended up winning the game easily, they were somewhat careless with the puck as well, giving up the rubber 20 times. It’s not every day that teams give the puck up as often as Calgary did Monday night, but the fact that Vegas managed to outdo the Flames in the turnover department by such a respectable margin is mind-boggling to say the least.
Penalty kill implodes
Going into Monday night’s contest, the Golden Knights had the league’s third-ranked penalty kill, successfully killing off 52 of 61 power plays. Dating back to Nov. 3, the Knights were 23-for-25 on the penalty kill ahead of their game against the Flames.
In Calgary, though, the penalty kill was manhandled, giving up three power-play goals in six shorthanded situations. Granted, Calgary has a star-studded cast of characters on its top unit, but that does not dispel what was a downright horrific performance from Vegas’ penalty kill.
After just one game, the Knights’ PK dropped from third-best in the league to eighth-best — still an improvement on last season’s 11th-ranked penalty kill, but this just goes to show how one bad game can skew the numbers.
Vegas improves in third period
While this was easily one of the worst performances we’ve ever seen out of the Golden Knights, they did somewhat manage to turn things around in the final frame.
Just 47 seconds into the third, Nick Holden blasted one past Flames goaltender David Rittich to get Vegas its first goal of the night — not that it mattered much, as you can tell by Holden’s apathetic reaction to his third tally of the season.
A little later on, Max Pacioretty scored his fourth point in as many games off a bit of a lucky bounce from the stick of Reilly Smith. A meaningless goal, but a positive sign as Pacioretty looks to get back in the habit of regular point production.
Inconsistency remains an obvious issue
After Vegas’ loss against the St. Louis Blues on Friday, Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury mentioned how frustrating it’s been to not be able to string wins together, and that was echoed by Pacioretty after the game.
“You’ve got to win against your division to make the playoffs, and I know we’re very early in the season right now, but we’ve got to string together some wins right now and get together as a group and create our identity, because, you know, it’s been one night on, one night off throughout the year so far, and that’s just not good enough.”
The Golden Knights followed up their loss against St. Louis with an encouraging victory over Edmonton, but once again, they were unable to keep the momentum going in the second half of their back-to-back in Alberta. Back-to-backs are never easy, but for a team as desperate as Vegas is, there can’t be any nights off. And by the looks of it, it certainly appears the effort wasn’t totally there against Calgary, as Nick Holden pointed out after the game.
“It was a lack of effort,” said Holden. “They just picked us apart in our D-zone. It just looked like we were two steps behind. I don’t know if it’s guys systematically or what it was, but it just can’t happen again.”