That, ladies and gentlemen, was one hell of a hockey game. With four lead-changes — a Stanley Cup Final record — Game 1 couldn’t have been more electric. There were plenty of clutch saves, eye-catching goals and big hits to go around. And if Monday night’s contest is any indication, we really are destined for a classic series between the Golden Knights and Washington Capitals.
As always, let’s jump right in and go over some observations.
1. Nosek has a big night
The fourth line brought it in Game 1, but no one brought it quite like Tomas Nosek. Nosek, who’s scored just one goal this postseason, scored two against the Capitals Monday night (albeit one of them was an empty-netter).
It’s great to see Nosek getting on the scoresheet, but even his pair of goals don’t tell the whole story. Nosek finished the night with a 74.19 Corsi For percentage at 5v5 — second only to fellow fourth liner Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. He also ranked third on the team behind Shea Theodore and Deryk Engelland in high danger chances with seven (the Knights also allowed just one high danger chance with Nosek on the ice).
Nosek made numerous eye-catching plays in Game 1, but his most impressive play of the night was his defensive effort that led to the empty-net goal. With time dying down, the Capitals were desperate to get one last shot on Marc-Andre Fleury. With Braden Holtby on the bench, Alex Ovechkin attempted a pass from the point to create a potential scoring chance, but Nosek made a fantastic diving play to knock the puck off course. This allowed him to find some open ice and retrieve the loose puck in the Capitals’ end, ultimately sealing the game for Vegas.
Nosek’s been one of the Golden Knights’ unsung heroes all season. After a stellar performance on hockey’s biggest stage, it’s certainly nice to see him finally getting the recognition he deserves.
2. Reaves makes an impact (again)
Ryan Reaves has quietly been putting together a fantastic postseason since initially drawing into the lineup in Game 6 of Vegas’ series against the San Jose Sharks. And in Game 1 against the Caps, he kept up the solid play once again.
Reaves finished the night with a Corsi For percentage of 69.23 at 5v5 (third on the team) and even scored his second goal in as many games, which we’ll talk more about later.
Even more impressive than his scoring streak (!) are his postseason possession numbers. Reaves currently leads the entire Golden Knights team in Corsi For percentage at 5v5 this postseason.
Yes, the entire team.
His 57.26 5v5 CF% ranks nearly three percentage points higher than the Corsi God himself, Jonathan Marchessault (54.75). Even better than that has been Reaves’ discipline, as he’s only taken two penalties through seven games. He may be somewhat of a controversial player, but Reaves may be playing the best hockey of his career right now.
3. Theodore dazzles
It’s hard not to be excited about Shea Theodore’s fantastic play this postseason. The 22-year-old has not only continued to be a formidable quarterback on the power play, but consistently showcases his abilities as a quality two-way defenseman.
In 16 games, Theodore has managed a 53.55 Corsi For percentage at 5v5, despite being paired with a bruising, stay-at-home defender in Engelland. His seven points at 5v5 leads all Golden Knights defensemen, and his four primary assists are second only to Reilly Smith (9) this postseason.
Theodore picked up his fourth primary assist of the playoffs Monday night, and it was a beauty. With the game tied at four goals apiece near the midway point of the final period, Theodore shook Devante Smith-Pelly with a fancy stutter step and hit Nosek with a gorgeous cross-ice feed to give Vegas the lead.
This goes without saying, but Vegas has one heck of a young blueliner on its hands.
4. Fleury uncharacteristically average
Marc-Andre Fleury certainly wasn’t at his best Monday night. Of course, he’s been otherworldly for the entirety of the postseason, so it’s only natural that in his one less-than-stellar performance, his teammates stepped up and took some of the pressure off in a high-scoring affair.
Fleury made 24 saves on 28 Washington shots. Those four goals allowed ties his game-high this postseason. Granted, there was nothing Fleury could do on some of Washington’s goals (deflection by Brett Connolly, insane no-look pass by T.J. Oshie), but he certainly won’t be happy with gifting Tom Wilson a goal in the third period.
Fleury is the frontrunner to win the Conn Smythe Trophy, so this average performance should be nothing more than just a blip on the radar. Expect Flower to be much better in Game 2.
5. Officiating needs to be better in Game 2
Many will look back at Game 1 as one of the worst-officiated games of the playoffs. The officials did what a good portion of hockey fans hoped for and “swallowed their whistles”, but that did nothing but cause the referees to lose control of this game.
Early in the third period, Ryan Reaves scored a game-tying goal that, in most cases, would not have counted. With Nosek patrolling behind the net, he found Reaves wide open in the low slot, who easily slammed the puck past Holtby to tie the game at four. But roughly a second before Reaves scored the goal, he blatantly cross-checked Washington’s John Carlson, who was in perfect position to keep Reaves from making that play. Had Reaves’ cross-check been called, his goal would not have counted and the Capitals would have earned a power play opportunity, which could have easily changed the outcome of the game.
Not long after Reaves’ goal, Washington’s Tom Wilson dished out a massive hit on Vegas’ Jonathan Marchessault well away from the play, which forced Marchessault to go through concussion protocol. Initially, there was no call on Wilson for interference, but following a brief gathering by the officials, Wilson was assessed a two-minute penalty (David Perron was also given two minutes, resulting in a brief 4v4 period).
The officials did eventually get the call right, but a penalty as blatant is this one, especially coming from a player like Wilson, should not require a gathering to get remedy the situation. Officiating was poor on both sides in Game 1. And if the referees swallow their whistles again in Game 2, things could get even more out of hand.