The Vegas Golden Knights had arguably their worst game of the playoffs in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. Against the Washington Capitals, the Golden Knights couldn’t find offense, and the defense struggled as well. There were some suspect individual efforts as well.
So how do the Golden Knights even up the series in Game 4? Here’s what to watch for as Vegas tries to get a victory in D.C.
Shea’s better than that
Shea Theodore had his worst game of the postseason in Game 3. He recognized that, saying “I’ve got to be better all over the ice and definitely recharge tomorrow and get back at it. You have to have a short memory on these types of things and it’s a seven-game series”.
Theodore made two major errors in Game 3, the first relaxing on a power play, letting Matt Niskanen get past him in the defensive zone, causing Marc-Andre Fleury to take a penalty. The second was not getting all of a pass out of the zone, allowing a turnover that led to the third Capitals’ goal, sealing the victory.
The thing is, Theodore has been better than that throughout the playoffs and the Cup Final. In Game 1 and Game 2, he contributed to getting the Knights on the scoreboard. He’s shown off the ability to get around opposing Capitals, and that’s been crucial. In Game 2, he also made a crucial stop:
Theodore is better than how he played in Game 3. It’s on him to prove it in Game 4.
Get inside/stay outside
This is, uh... not good.
The Golden Knights only had two high-danger shots on Braden Holtby by this count. The Capitals had eight on Marc-Andre Fleury. In game 1, the lone Vegas victory to this point, the Golden Knights had ten chances from inside and scored on half of them. Two chances is not going to lead to much.
Vegas needs to find a way to get inside the Capitals’ defense, past their neutral zone trap, and make them pay. Fire high-danger shots on Holtby from his left side, where most of the goals have come from. The Knights have the speed to do so, they just need the communication and the quality passing it takes to deliver on those chances.
At the same time, the defense needs to step up and create a logjam of their own, forcing the Capitals to the outside. Don’t let them get near Fleury, and make sure everyone is covered. If the Knights can step up in the crease, Washington’s scoring should decrease, and Vegas could force the puck back up the ice faster.
Middle-six needs success
The second and third lines of the Golden Knights haven’t done much this series. While the fourth line continues to drive possession whenever they touch the ice and the first line is re-finding their dominance, the second and third are nearly invisible.
The third line of Alex Tuch, Cody Eakin, and Ryan Carpenter has 15 shots because Tuch has nine. The second (David Perron, Erik Haula, James Neal) has ten across all situations. That’s a problem. A major one. If the middle six can’t generate, and the only scoring the Golden Knights are getting is from the first or the fourth, who hasn’t stepped up this much all season, they’re not going to get offense.
Perron has the worst Corsi on the Golden Knights’ roster. Haula and Neal are tied for second-worst. That’s despite workloads that start in the offensive zone.
That’s where the lineup change(s) come in. Tuch has been raised to the second line, in hopes that he will help increase the scoring, and Tomas Tatar has been added to the third line. Tatar adds an element of speed to that line, and while he hasn’t been productive to this point, he did score in one of his two games against the Winnipeg Jets.
Tatar can also get inside and get some high-danger chances. In six games (a limited sample), Tatar has the fifth-best Corsi on the Golden Knights in these playoffs, the sixth-best shot share, and eighth-best high-danger share. He could potentially be one of the guys to step up when the Golden Knights need him to. He’s been waiting for this chance.
Gallant has said that Tatar isn’t the lone addition. There will be an update when it’s known who, but this writer has a favorite in mind.
TOMAS HYKA SCORES THIS IS NOT A DRILL pic.twitter.com/zTa3Q1Grge— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) February 24, 2018
Searching for Superman
Fleury has a .875 save percentage in this series so far. That’s after a .977 save percentage against the Los Angeles Kings, a .935 against the San Jose Sharks, and a .938 against the Jets. This has left the Golden Knights in a hole.
Flower was the superhero of the Golden Knights’ roster prior to this series. He made saves he likely shouldn’t have and kept the Golden Knights motoring. While he’s only let in three goals apiece in the last two games, that’s still kept Vegas down.
While the defense does need to step up, cutting off cross-slot passes and getting the Capitals out of the high-danger areas, Fleury needs to step up himself. The Capitals have figured out the key to beating him, which is to wait him out. Fleury needs to regain his patience and wait for them to make the first move.
Fleury has beaten the Capitals before, helping the Pittsburgh Penguins past them last season. He just needs to remember what he did then and repeat it.
The Golden Knights need their superhero back. The question now is, can Fleury deliver?
How to Watch
Time: 5 p.m. PT
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM