After a sloppy, but important win over the New York Islanders on Wednesday, the Vegas Golden Knights returned to action Friday night when they visited Prudential Center to take on the New Jersey Devils. And they’d be doing so with some backup. For the first time since Oct. 8, forward Paul Stastny was back in action after sitting out for over two months with a lower-body injury.
While Vegas had one of its top players return to the lineup, New Jersey, on the other hand, would be missing their top star. Taylor Hall, the reigning Hart Trophy winner, was out of action Friday with a lower-body injury of his own.
Personnel-wise, the Knights had a pretty clear advantage over the Devils. Unfortunately, though, they only managed to walk out of Prudential Center with a loser point after blowing a three-goal lead and losing 5-4 in overtime. It was a spectacular collapse in Newark, and for it to come against one of the worst teams in the NHL (without its top player) makes it even more mind-boggling.
Vegas actually started off strong
Despite a pair of subpar efforts in the contest’s final two periods, the Golden Knights actually started the game off rather well. It only took Alex Tuch 1:19 to get the Knights on the board with a gorgeous wraparound goal. Not long after, William Karlsson and William Carrier both scored goals of their own to give Vegas a 3-0 lead.
From there, though, things started to go downhill fast, which is well-illustrated in the possession chart below. While the Knights did manage to get a fourth goal on the board, they were unable to slow New Jersey’s frantic resurgence in the following 50 minutes, and it cost them.
“We played a real good first 10 minutes of the hockey game. That was it,” said head coach Gerard Gallant. “New Jersey took over after that. They played real well, they played real hard and they battled back. We weren’t prepared for that.”
“I thought we sat back, let them control the pace, let them control the play,” said Tuch. “We showed sparks of some good play out there, but definitely not enough. Hung our goalie out to dry a lot. We just weren’t playing as a front-man unit.”
Fleury a prime reason for Vegas picking up a point
Tuch mentioned leaving goaltender Marc-Andre fleury out to dry, and that certainly did play a major role in New Jersey storming back. Fleury was too often placed into suboptimal circumstances as a result of careless turnovers and generally poor play defensively. The Knights had a lot of problems Friday, but Fleury was most certainly not one of them.
At the end of the night, Fleury stopped 37 of New Jersey’s 42 shots, including six saves while shorthanded. It was Fleury’s 12th straight start in 24 days.
After the game, Fleury called the Knights’ performance “embarrassing” and that the Devils gave them “a good lesson.” That lesson was a simple one — 10 minutes does not a hockey game make.
Holden has a night to forget
In defense of Holden, none of Vegas’ blueliners performed well Friday night. Especially Deryk Engelland, who was on the ice for both of New Jersey’s first two goals. Holden, however, made a pair of ugly gaffes that were in the forefront of the Knights’ brutal collapse.
About midway through the final frame, Devils forward Miles Wood made Holden look pedestrian when he blazed past him in the neutral zone for one-on-one opportunity with Fleury. Luckily, Fleury managed to turn the 23-year-old’s shot aside.
Not long after that, though, Holden committed another blunder that, incredibly, is even harder to watch than his poor foot speed against Wood just a few minutes earlier. Skating toward Fleury along the goal line, Devils forward Brett Seney stuffed a puck into Fleury’s pads that wound up sitting unattended in the crease. In an effort to get the puck out of harm’s way, Holden appeared to have attempted to backhand it toward the slot, but it banked off of William Karlsson’s skate and slid right into the net.
Holden finished the night with a downright miserable 5-on-5 Corsi For percentage of 24.00 — third-worst on the team ahead of only Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Ryan Reaves.
Kinkaid excellent in relief of Schneider
Devils goaltender Cory Schneider has had a rough year to say the least. The 32-year-old goalie is on a 0-14-2 run and hasn’t won a game since Dec. 27, 2017. And things didn’t get much better for him Friday night when he allowed three Vegas goals on just seven shots.
Eventually, the former All-Star was pulled in favor of Keith Kinkaid, who was nothing short of stellar after taking over the cage, stopping 14 of Vegas’ 15 shots on net. The only goal he allowed was a snipe from William Karlsson on the power play, made possible by a perfect screen from Alex Tuch.
Though Vegas only managed to fire 22 shots on goal, Friday night was no walk in the park for Kinkaid, who had to make some big-time stops in order to keep the Devils’ hopes alive.
Kinkaid now owns a .904 save percentage and 2.97 goals against average through 25 appearances this season.
Stastny fair in return to lineup
The big highlight of the night for Vegas was the return of Paul Stastny. And despite missing over two months of action, the 32-year-old managed to have the best performance of any Knights player in terms of play-driving. His 50.00 Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5 not only led the team, but that number becomes even more impressive when considering his usage. The majority of his draws were taken in the defensive zone (20.00 Off. Zone Faceoff %), yet he still managed to generate more offense than anyone else on Vegas’ roster.
Stastny still has yet to register a single point with his new team, but he has by no means been anything less than a serviceable piece for the Knights in the few games he’s played.