The Vegas Golden Knights lost Game 1 to the Winnipeg Jets Saturday night. It was not fun! The Knights now trail a playoff series for the first time in franchise history, and it certainly feels yucky and gross.
Let’s jump right in and go over some observations from Game 1.
1. Golden Knights’ disastrous first period costs them
Just about every Golden Knights fan was jittery going into Game 1. And how could they not be? The Knights have been the story of the NHL all season, and the fact that they made it to the Western Conference Final is still hard to believe.
Unfortunately, though, Vegas looked the part of a team dealing with early-game butterflies.
The Golden Knights were outscored 3-0 just 7:35 into the first period. Winnipeg’s first tally came from Dustin Byfuglien, who lasered one past Marc-Andre Fleury to open the scoring. Not long after, Patrik Laine scored his fourth goal of the postseason, which was immediately followed up by a Joel Armia tally just under a minute later.
The Knights simply weren’t prepared for Winnipeg’s aggressive start. They were outbattled, outworked and outplayed from head to toe in the first third, and Vegas was never able to fully recover.
That’s not to say they didn’t at least make things a little bit interesting, though...
2. Vegas responded well after rough start
If there’s any positive takeaway from the first period of Game 1, it’s that the Golden Knights wasted no time orchestrating a response following Winnipeg’s third goal. Less than a minute after Armia’s tally, Brayden McNabb scored his second goal of the postseason to finally get Vegas on the board. And counting McNabb’s goal, the Knights actually managed to outscore Winnipeg 2-1 for the remainder of the contest.
It may not have felt like it given the circumstances, but Vegas was far from lifeless after Winnipeg’s ferocious start. Sure, it’s unfortunate the Knights never ended up closing the gap a little more (and it’s also unfortunate they allowed the Jets to take such a commanding lead in the first place), but it’s certainly a good thing to see Vegas refusing to lie down.
3. Penalty kill dominated by Winnipeg’s power play
Vegas’ penalty kill has been phenomenal all postseason, but it certainly didn’t look itself in Game 1. And that tends to happen when players like Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler are all on the ice at the same time.
The Golden Knights were shorthanded a total of four times Saturday night, and they simply got got against Winnipeg’s potent first power play unit. First it was Laine who scored on the man advantage for Winnipeg, followed by a Scheifele marker midway through the second period.
It wasn’t a great night for the penalty kill in general, but it was a particularly bad night for Reilly Smith, who was partially responsible for both of Winnipeg’s power-play markers.
4. Marc-Andre Fleury not spectacular, but not necessarily bad
Fleury has been otherworldly all postseason. He was bound to have a less-than-stellar performance at some point, and Game 1 just happened to be his not-so-lucky night.
It’s understandable why one would be concerned with Fleury’s performance Saturday night, but there’s no need to worry. Gerard Gallant certainly isn’t.
“You watched the goals. You’ve seen the game,” said Gallant following the loss. “Deflection goals. A big shot by [Dustin] Byfuglien. [Fleury]’s played real good hockey for us. He’s the best goalie in the playoffs as far as I’m concerned.”
Sure doesn’t sound like a coach who’s concerned about his goaltender.
Could Fleury have stopped Byfuglien’s opening tally? Absolutely. But he didn’t, and that happens. As for the other three goals, it’s not Fleury’s fault that Laine, one of best goal scorers in the NHL, was left uncovered on the man advantage. It’s also totally out of his control when a puck gets redirected and finds its way to the back of the net.
Fleury wasn’t bad in Game 1. He just wasn’t great. Which Vegas fans may have come a little too accustomed to this postseason.
5. It’s just one game
Yes, the Golden Knights were thoroughly outplayed Saturday night. It wasn’t pretty. But at the end of the day, Vegas is still very much alive in this series. There are six games left to be played, and knowing how well the Knights respond after ugly losses, it’s hard to imagine Vegas not being more prepared in Game 2. This series is far from over, folks.