This word has not been used for a while, but the Vegas Golden Knights looked like an expansion team Saturday night.
The Golden Knights lost Game 3 to the Washington Capitals, 3-1, after poor showings on both ends of the ice.
After a scoreless first period, Vegas’ defense began to collapse, allowing Alex Ovechkin to score his 14th goal of the postseason — which tied him for the postseason lead with Mark Scheifele — on a scramble in front of the net that saw the Golden Knights completely unable to clear:
What a job by Fleury to at least make things difficult for Washington on this goal. pic.twitter.com/U9k2Asxq3C— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) June 3, 2018
Later in the period, Evgeny Kuznetsov added a goal on a 3-on-2 that was nearly perfectly placed in the upper right corner:
Kuznetsov does his thing and beats Fleury to give Washington the two-goal lead. What a snipe. pic.twitter.com/3g2bl2M03t— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) June 3, 2018
Kuznetsov was flying in this contest, and showed no sign of wear after being ruled a game-time decision following a borderline hit from Brayden McNabb in Game 2.
The Knights would head into the final frame down 2-0, but found new life when Capitals netminder Braden Holtby — who played a second straight great game — made a costly blunder with the puck, allowing Tomas Nosek to score his fourth goal of the Stanley Cup Playoffs:
GOAL. Tomas Nosek scores off a Holtby giveaway. Just the luck Vegas needed. pic.twitter.com/I5V6Mtzi78— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) June 3, 2018
The Knights were able to mount a bit of pressure before their fourth minor penalty — a Deryk Engelland trip — slowed the momentum. Devante Smith-Pelly’s goal at 13:53 ended it:
Horrible turnover by Shea Theodore leads to a Washington goal. Caps now lead 3-1. That's a killer. pic.twitter.com/X0x9iUl8g3— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) June 3, 2018
Shea Theodore was at fault on the above goal, and had arguably his worst game as a member of the Golden Knights, showing a lack of awareness, foot speed or both several times, most noticeably here against the veteran Matt Niskanen:
Aaaand Fleury gets called for tripping. That's the end of the Vegas power play. pic.twitter.com/L0NfV069eK— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) June 3, 2018
Marc-Andre Fleury may have gotten the penalty call, but Theodore could have easily prevented it. That power play might have turned the tied for Vegas; instead it became a 4-on-4, and eventually a Washington power play.
Fleury stopped 23 of 26 shots, which looks poor at a first glance, but was probably a bit better than it could have been, given his defense’s frequent lapses in judgment and positioning. A highlights package of this game is unlikely to show much favoring Vegas — for good reason — but a couple of Flower’s saves should be preserved for posterity:
Across the ice, Braden Holtby was lights-out once again, and would have had a shutout if not for his poor decision with the puck that led to Nosek’s goal. The 28-year-old appeared to track the puck very well and position himself accordingly, but was not tested to the extent that Fleury was in this game. Just look at how clean his crease was:
At the end of the day, Vegas simply did not play Golden Knights hockey. This is a team that made the finals on the strength of hard work, crisp plays and low penalty totals. Oh, and a Vezina-caliber season from the goaltender. Little of that happened in this contest, and the latter portion has been a mixed bag. While Fleury is not to blame for many of this round’s goals against, he has not come close to stealing a game, which he did about twice a round leading up to the Finals.
This was also a game that saw the Vegas’ second line play about as poorly as they have all season. The trio of David Perron, Erik Haula and James Neal were on-ice for three goals against and at times appeared disinterested. They combined for an abysmal 14% expected goals-for percentage, even more concerning when you consider that they started the preponderance of their shifts in the offensive zone.
The middle-six, broadly speaking, needs work. The book-ends — the first and fourth lines — played well, with each player having a Corsi For Percentage between 57.14% (Nosek) and 78.26% (Jon Marchessault). Those should probably stay intact. The other two, however, with the exception of Alex Tuch, should be addressed.
The Knights have a play-driving, 20-goal scorer gathering dust in the press box named Tomas Tatar, and it might not be the worst idea to insert him into the lineup. Ryan Carpenter and David Perron have yet to score this postseason. Cody Eakin has not tallied since the San Jose Sharks series. Make of that what you will.
While there may be a sense of doom and gloom following Vegas’ first back-to-back set of losses in the postseason, the reality is that they are down just two games to one and have an opportunity to get back into the series in Game 4 on Monday,