The Vegas Golden Knights returned to the T-Mobile Arena for the first time since Jan. 25 Sunday night after a successful six-game road trip to take on the Philadelphia Flyers for the first time in franchise history. Despite outplaying the unfamiliar opponent for the majority of the game, though, the Golden Knights were outscored 4-1 by the Flyers and started off their seven-game homestand on the wrong foot.
What did we learn from the loss? Let’s start with the shot count.
1. Outshooting the other team doesn’t always result in a win
On paper, you’d think the Golden Knights won this contest rather handily. Vegas outshot Philadelphia 39-18 and dominated the possession game, but they still lost 4-1. How was Vegas unable to get pucks in the net while Philadelphia took full advantage of their limited opportunities? Simply, the Flyers got into the high-danger scoring areas whereas the Golden Knights did not.
As displayed in the heat map above, the majority of Vegas’ shot attempts came from low-danger scoring areas. In the rare occasions they managed to get to the high-danger areas, either Flyers goaltender Michal Neuvirth made the save or they missed the net entirely.
The Flyers, on the other hand, despite being horribly outshot, took advantage of their high-danger scoring opportunities. Philadelphia took several shots from close range (and, unlike the Golden Knights, didn’t miss the net), resulting in three of the Flyers’ four goals. In the case of Sunday night’s contest against Philadelphia, it really is quality — not quantity — that truly matters.
2. Michal Neuvirth too hot for Vegas to handle
While the Golden Knights didn’t get a ton of quality scoring opportunities, it’s still rare for a team to put 39 shots on net and only score one goal. Neuvirth, of course, was the main reason for Vegas’ inability to find twine. Aside from Brayden McNabb’s tally in the first period, Neuvirth stopped everything Vegas threw at him and was the primary reason for Philly walking out of the T-Mobile Arena with two points. Despite the high volume of shots sent his way, Neuvirth allowed few rebounds, which also played a role in limiting Vegas’ opportunities from close range.
Impressively, Neuvirth’s stellar performance came just 24 hours after coming in cold during a shootout to help Philadelphia secure a 4-3 victory over the Arizona Coyotes.
Sometimes a hot goaltender can win a game for his respective team, and that’s what Neuvirth did for the Flyers Sunday night.
3. Marc-Andre Fleury going through rough patch
Fleury didn’t have his best performance against Philadelphia Sunday night. The 33-year-old goaltender allowed three goals on just 17 shots and looked shaky throughout the contest. This is the fourth straight game in which Fleury has allowed three or more goals, which is disconcerting considering Malcolm Subban could be out of the lineup for a while.
That said, every goalie is streaky to a degree. Golden Knights fans have been somewhat spoiled by Fleury’s sensational play throughout the season, so it’s only natural for a stretch like this to seem worse than it actually is. Fleury’s still his same All-Star self and it’s only a matter of time before he returns to that form.
4. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare struggles against former team
As has often been the case this season, Golden Knights players have typically performed well against the teams that chose not to protect them prior to the expansion draft. William Karlsson scored two goals against the Columbus Blue Jackets last month, Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault combined for six points against their former team in the Golden Knights’ two meetings against the Florida Panthers, Malcolm Subban recorded his first career win against the Boston Bruins in October and Fleury carried Vegas to a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Vegas’ first meeting against his former team.
Bellemare, though, wouldn’t have as great a night. The 32-year-old forward was minus-one against his former team and failed to take advantage of a two-on-none rush that could have changed the game’s outcome.
Bellemare passes the puck to nobody on the 2-0! Interesting tactic! pic.twitter.com/BNUlIvGd7T— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) February 12, 2018
That’s a gaffe that simply cannot be made on the breakaway. Granted, Bellemare has never been known as an offensive dynamo, but passing the puck to no one on a two-on-zero is just unacceptable. This is a night Bellemare will certainly want to erase from his memory as soon as possible.
5. Nashville Predators gaining ground on Vegas
For the last month or so, Vegas has comfortably sat atop the Western Conference standings. Since dropping two of their last three contests, though, it appears there may be a new contender for the top spot in the conference. The Predators are one of the hottest teams in the league and trail Vegas by just one point (with a game in hand) in the conference standings. The Golden Knights still lead the Pacific Division by a huge margin and are destined to make the playoffs in their inaugural season, so there’s nothing to worry about on that front. But losing the top spot in the conference would result in Vegas losing home-ice advantage in the postseason, so this is certainly a storyline to watch as the season winds down.