This is March.
For the moment, for the Vegas Golden Knights, it’s not the madness they’d like.
Yes, the Golden Knights are still a thing with one month to go in the regular season. That is great. It’s also great that Vegas, barring tonight’s result in Anaheim between the Ducks and Washington Capitals, maintain a double-digit lead in the Pacific Division with 16 games to go.
But good lord, something is wrong with this team. And now the Golden Knights may be without Reilly Smith for the foreseeable future.
Pierre-Luc Dubois had a goal and two assists, Artemi Panarin scored a goal and the Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the Golden Knights 4-1 at Nationwide Arena on Tuesday. The Golden Knights have lost for the fourth time in five games (1-3-1) since the trade deadline.
Vegas began a five-game road trip Sunday with a 3-2 win in New Jersey. After a three-game stretch the week before that saw the Golden Knights lose back-to-back games against the Los Angeles Kings and lay an egg Friday night against lover from afar Erik Karlsson and the Ottawa Senators, that win was much needed for a team that was in desperate need of something. Literally anything. It could’ve been anything on this planet.
Then, Vegas allowed a goal from Panarin 16 seconds into the game to give Columbus a 1-0 lead.
The Golden Knights, for much of the game, controlled the tempo. They were able to get into the Columbus zone and get some great scoring chances. Erik Haula capitalized on one of those chances 1:30 into the second period, tying it 1-1 off a great pass from David Perron. It was Haula’s 24th goal and 60th point of the season.
Columbus, fighting for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, responded with two goals in the second period for a 3-1 lead from Zach Werenski (8:01) and once-thought-of Golden Knight Ian Cole (9:47).
If the Cole goal wasn’t a summary of what’s been going on the past two weeks, we’re not sure what is.
Dubois’ empty-net goal at 17:39 of the third period iced the game.
Oh, and William Karlsson’s return to Columbus resulted in one shot on goal and a minus-3 rating. Yikes.
Now, for the important details. Vegas has lost four of five — two to division opponents, one to a bad team and one to a team that played like it had more to play for. The Golden Knights, barring a collapse that would make the 2007 New York Mets proud, are going to win the Pacific Division. Even if they coast all the way to the finish line and tally 13 more points by accident, it’s going to happen.
But if you’re a fan of Vegas winning the Presidents’ Trophy, it might be best to put those plans on hold (enter your “It worked so well for the Capitals” jokes here). If you like the thought of Vegas getting home-ice advantage for the Western Conference playoffs, bring a fire extinguisher to Nashville and cool off the red-hot Predators. At time of publish, Nashville is tied 0-0 with the Dallas Stars in the third period. Vegas is four points behind Nashville, with a chance to at least extend to five should that result hold past regulation.
On top of all of that, there’s the unknown of Smith, the Golden Knights’ MVP of this remarkable season. Smith took a shot from Werenski at 15:23 of the second period and he did not return. The Jonathan Marchessault — Karlsson — Smith line, which leads the NHL in minutes played and goals scored, is on the cusp of going ghost for a bit. Welcome aboard, Tomas Tatar, emperor of fish sauce and scorer of goals.
Timing sucks. Vegas needs to get healthy (welcome back, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and his 11:27 of ice time) and needs to figure out how to make this new roster work. It’s not all Ryan Reaves’ fault. The issue, whether it be laziness as Marchessault portrayed it the other night, or just integrating new pieces into the lineup, is stemming much greater than anticipated. This is what happens when a team wins as much as Vegas has. Slumps like this become worrisome.
There are 16 games to go. Vegas is running out of time to get this right, as the Golden Knights face Tatar’s old team, the Detroit Red Wings, on Thursday.