Despite a bit of a subpar effort against the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday, the Vegas Golden Knights still managed to earn a pair of points for their efforts during the stop in British Columbia. Of course, a sharper game was imperative as they traveled to Alberta to take on the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday, especially when facing off against the best hockey player on the planet.
To the Knights’ credit, they did play a sharper game against Edmonton. They just didn’t end up getting a victory out of it.
Connor McDavid scored a sickeningly beautiful goal early in the contest to give the Oilers the early lead, but Vegas did a good job of responding. It wouldn’t be until the second period that Vegas scored a goal of its own, but thanks to the lucky bounce off an Edmonton defender’s skate, the game was all knotted up. Later in the third, though, Ryan Spooner, the newest member of the Oilers, scored to give Edmonton the lead, which would not again be relinquished.
First line excels
The Golden Knights only managed to score one goal against the Oilers, but it should be of no surprise to anyone that Vegas’ top line was responsible for the tally. Going into Saturday night’s contest, William Karlsson had scored a goal in each of Vegas’ last three games, and he kept that streak alive about midway through the second frame when he had a shot bank off the skate of Oscar Klefbom and slide into the net.
The first line was easily Vegas’ best trio throughout the contest. Their eight high-danger chances at 5-on-5 were easily the most by any Vegas line, and that was reflected in their possession metrics — Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith averaged a stellar Corsi For percentage of 64.47 at 5-on-5, and it’s incredible that the trio didn’t score more than just one goal on the night.
Together, the first line combined for 14 shots on goal. And while Vegas’ second line has been its most productive as of late, the top trio reclaimed the thrown Saturday night — even if it was only for one game.
Eakin’s turnover a costly error
The turning point of Saturday night’s contest came a little under six minutes into the final period. Skating behind the net in his own zone, Knights forward Cody Eakin was being relentlessly pursued by Edmonton’s Ty Rattie, who eventually forced Eakin into a turnover. Oilers forward Jujhar Khaira opportunistically recovered the loose puck and quickly fed Spooner, who was acquired by Edmonton just a couple weeks ago, in the low slot for a one-timer that Marc-Andre Fleury couldn’t stop in time.
Rattie’s forechecking on the play was excellent and Khaira’s alert feed to Spooner was admirable, but this goal very well could have been avoided with some better positioning from defenseman Colin Miller, who was caught puck watching. As Miller was preoccupied with what was going on behind the net, Spooner was able to take advantage of the extra ice in front of Fleury and ram home the game-winner.
Power play struggles
Prior to their game against Edmonton, the Golden Knights had converted on the power play in each of their last four contests. Saturday night, though, Vegas looked completely out of sync on the man advantage. For the first time since Nov. 21, the Golden Knights were unable to convert on any of their attempts on the power play, and that ended up costing them.
The Knights’ power play managed only three shots on net in as many opportunities, but it wasn’t just the lack of shot generation that plagued Vegas on the man advantage. Particularly early on, the Knights could hardly even enter the Edmonton zone without a defender gaining possession and dumping the puck back down to the Vegas end.
Granted, the Golden Knights’ power play hasn’t exactly set the world on fire this season, but against a team with the 26th-ranked penalty kill, Vegas’ deficiencies on the man advantage were simply deplorable.
Both goaltenders stand out
Despite allowing a pair of goals, Marc-Andre Fleury was stellar in net for the Golden Knights. The second goal he allowed was largely due to a defensive lapse. The first goal — let’s just say stopping Connor McDavid one-on-one isn’t exactly a reasonable expectation for goaltenders nowadays.
That said, Fleury did manage to redeem himself after McDavid’s opening tally by making an enormous stop on another one of the all-world forward’s numerous quality chances a little later on.
As good as Fleury was, however, Mikko Koskinen was unquestionably better. The 30-year-old netminder stopped 31 of Vegas’ 32 shots — many of which were of the high-danger variety — to pick up his eighth win in just 11 starts.
Koskinen, who appears to have unseated Cam Talbot as Edmonton’s full-time starter, currently owns a .928 save percentage and 2.16 goals against average in 12 appearances this season. Amazingly, Koskinen hadn’t seen NHL action since the 2010-11 season prior to this year.
There’s a heck of a success story brewing in Edmonton, folks.
Not a bad effort, despite loss
Though Vegas only managed to score one goal Saturday night, their performance against Edmonton certainly wasn’t anything to be discouraged about. On the contrary, it may have been one of the Knights’ better performances this season — impressive, considering some of their dominant showings over the last couple weeks.
“I thought we played well. We did a lot of things right,” said Reilly Smith after the game. “We couldn’t find enough in the back of the net, but that hasn’t been a trend as of late. We’ve been averaging six goals a game for the last few. You’re gonna run into a little bit of a hot goalie and it seemed like pucks were just hitting him tonight, but I think overall we played a good game. If we keep that momentum and that pace into the next one, it’ll give us a good outcome.”
The Golden Knights will be back in action on Tuesday when they return home for a brief two-game homestand. Their Tuesday night matchup will be no cakewalk, though, as Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, victors of seven straight games, come to town.