Unfortunately, things are much different now.
The Capitals crushed the Knights 6-2 Monday night, taking a commanding 3-1 lead in the Stanley Cup Final. This is just the second time that Vegas has lost three straight games all season. And they’re doing it at the worst possible time.
Let’s jump right in and go over some observations.
1. Vegas didn’t necessarily play poorly
When a team loses a game by four goals, it’s usually because they didn’t play very well. Go figure!
However, that was not necessarily the case for the Golden Knights in Game 4. Though Vegas was badly outscored by Washington, the Knights actually dominated in many facets of the contest. For example, the Knights outshot Washington 30-23, they produced a whopping 11 fewer giveaways than Washington and also outhit the Capitals 39-29.
On top of all that, the Knights largely controlled the majority of Game 4 in terms of possession with an admirable 65.43 Corsi For percentage at 5v5.
The Knights also seemed to generate better chances from the high-danger areas than Washington.
The Golden Knights more than doubled Washington’s high-danger chances at 5v5 and generated more scoring chances than the Capitals in any situation (31-21 lead in SCF in favor of Vegas). Out of all those scoring chances, though, they only managed to beat Braden Holtby twice, despite having numerous opportunities to get on the board.
Which brings us to our next point.
2. Neal’s missed opportunity a crusher for Vegas
Luck certainly wasn’t on the Knights’ side in Game 4, but one particular missed opportunity will be the talk of the town for a while.
Early in the game while on the man advantage, Erik Haula was left totally uncovered on the right wing with James Neal waiting patiently in the low slot for a passing lane to open up. Once it did, Haula hit Neal with a perfect feed that gave the 25-goal scorer a wide open net to shoot at.
And he missed it.
After the game, Neal was visibly upset about the missed opportunity when he spoke to reporters in the locker room.
“Yeah, I hit the post,” he said. “Probably changes the game, probably a different game after that. You know, we get the first one... it’s tough. It was a great play. [Tomas Tatar] passes it over to [Haula], finds me backdoor, I had a wide open net and I hit the post. It’s one I’ll definitely want to have back.”
3. Miller’s penalty the beginning of the end
Not long after Neal’s gaffe, Colin Miller took a tripping penalty that gave Washington its first power play opportunity of the night. And from there, things began to unravel.
Just 32 seconds into that Capitals power play, T.J. Oshie opened the scoring after some impressive footwork to keep possession of the puck. Later in the period, Washington doubled its lead thanks to a top shelf tally from Tom Wilson, which was followed up by another score just a few minutes later from Devante Smith-Pelly. And after all that, the Knights never seemed to fully recover.
Miller’s penalty came at the worst possible time. For the majority of the first period, the Golden Knights were swarming in the offensive zone and looked destined to take the early lead, but Miller’s penalty gave Washington a golden opportunity to shift the momentum in its favor. Naturally, the Capitals made the most of their chance, and that snowballed into an avalanche of goals against the Knights in the early going.
4. Holtby outplays Fleury once again
Before the start of the series, many, including myself, were predicting Marc-Andre Fleury to guide the Golden Knights to the promised land with the Conn Smythe Trophy virtually guaranteed. But as things have turned out, it’s been Holtby, who lost to Fleury in last year’s postseason, who’s putting together a Conn Smythe-worthy effort in the Final.
Through 22 postseason games, Holtby now owns a 2.13 goals against average and a .923 save percentage. For a guy who was benched for Philipp Grubauer to start the postseason, those are some pretty fantastic numbers.
Fleury, on the other hand, is in the midst of a series he’d like to forget. Through four games, the 33-year-old backstop is averaging 3.49 goals against per game with a dreadful .877 save percentage.
Fleury has been the driving force behind Vegas’ remarkable postseason run, but like his team, the veteran netminder is hitting a wall at the worst possible time.
5. No room for error now
It’s do-or-die time. The miscues that have plagued Vegas this series can no longer be acceptable. The Knights are now just one loss away from being sent home empty-handed, and must resolve these issues immediately to right the ship.
The series returns to T-Mobile Arena Thursday night as the Golden Knights look to get back on track in Game 5. In what could be the last home game of the season for the Knights, expect the Fortress to be a tad loud.