Let me be very clear before going any further: The sky is not falling.
The end is not nigh for the Vegas Golden Knights. The result of this four-game road trip for the Golden Knights does not mean their chances of winning the Stanley Cup narrows to damn-near minuscule.
But that does not mean that we can’t take this four-game stint, and really the past eight games as a whole, for what it is ... a complete failure.
After winning at Columbus and coming within minutes of knocking off Toronto, the Golden Knights crashed and burned with a 5-2 loss at the Washington Capitals, and a disastrous 3-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday.
As a result, the Golden Knights remain at 21 points through 19 games and are fourth in the Pacific Division. The Edmonton Oilers, who will visit T-Mobile Arena on Nov. 23, are five points clear of Vegas.
It’s hard to pinpoint one exact issue right now. If only it were easy to take the giant cork, plug it in to the hole and stop the dam from leaking. Alas, the Golden Knights are 9-7-3 with a favorable stretch coming up of five of their next six games at home.
Let’s attempt to figure out what went wrong here.
Fleury and Subban didn’t get enough help
The Columbus game was the best collective effort from the Golden Knights. Giveaways were limited (two), which led to Marc-Andre Fleury posting a strong 29-save effort to give Vegas its first ever victory at Nationwide Arena.
Malcolm Subban played fantastic in his first start in his native Toronto. The backup netminder made 35 saves and it was his second strong performance in a row.
But much like Subban’s start against Winnipeg, those around him let him down. The Golden Knights committed one penalty too many against Toronto; the sixth penalty led to the tying power-play goal from Auston Matthews that made it 1-1. One William Karlsson turnover later in overtime, the Golden Knights fail to get a second point in The Six.
It didn’t take nearly that long for Fleury to be hung out to dry Saturday in D.C. It took about 5:53 in the first period, starting with this Evgeny Kuznetsov goal where Jon Merrill appears to wake up from a nap 58 seconds into the game.
Then at 5:53, Jonathan Marchessault commits a careless turnover along the halfboards. Jakub Vrana gathers the puck and finds an open Tom Wilson, who snipes it past Fleury with hardly any resistance.
Keep in mind that Fleury came into this game at 5-0-0 on the road with a GAA well below under 1.30. All it took was two bad decisions, two uncharacteristic decisions, for that to implode.
The fact that Fleury had to blame himself for the loss Saturday shows how ass-backwards everything is right now.
Fleury and Subban weren’t completely perfect. Fleury shouldn’t have given up the first goal from Niklas Backstrom, and Subban should have certainly saved the first two goals allowed against Detroit that could have changed the complexion of the game.
The goaltending, for the better part of four games, did its part, and the fact that Subban still doesn’t have a win to this point is a crime.
Old Patches is back ... but where’s everyone else?
Max Pacioretty is coming back to Las Vegas with flames on his head.
Pacioretty has four goals in his past five games after scoring on Sunday. That’s the good news.
The bad news: The Golden Knights are now 1-3-2 when Pacioretty scores a goal this season, which means comprehension makes little to no sense. But it gets better.
During Pacioretty’s stretch of goals, his linemates have been dead silent. Paul Stastny has not scored a point in the past six games, while Mark Stone has not scored a point in four consecutive games. This was after he went on a tear of 12 points (six goals, six assists) in his previous 11 games.
When his shot is connecting at this rate, it’s something close to Montreal-like Pacioretty when he scored 30 goals a year.
And then Sunday. Makes it look effortless.
Pacioretty had 10 assists up until this point. He’s nearing point-per-game status right now.
The fact he’s scored without Stone or Stastny setting him up is concerning for the short run, but has to bode well later on. Common sense leads us all to believe 26 and 61 will not be going much longer with goose eggs on the box score.
Take it for how you will, but the Golden Knights, for now, are getting the Pacioretty they traded for last September. And if you’re looking for any ounce of good news, that’ll be it.
Leads. What are they good for? Absolutely nothing
The Golden Knights have played six games since Halloween. In five of those games, Vegas has taken a lead into the third period. They’ve lost four of them. The only win was the Columbus game.
Throw in the Boston game on Oct. 8, and that’s five times the Golden Knights blew a lead at some point. That’s one of three games where Vegas had a two-goal lead and still lost.
It’s nothing but a crash course as to how to not finish the job, which has been a problem for Vegas. Earning the one point teams receive in overtime/shootout losses can only go so far. They mean about as much as commercials during election season.
It goes without saying how the Golden Knights’ record would be better off if they finished the job dating back to Halloween. Had Vegas defeated Winnipeg and Montreal, it could live with going 1-2-1 in this road trip. The combination of getting off to a slow start at home and not being able to rebound in these past few games leaves with more questions than answers. There’s no immediate fix to these solutions; one job will not fix everything.
The defense needs an overhaul
Something’s got to give here. Shea Theodore, Nate Schmidt, somebody, anybody, has got to start producing some offense from the blue line.
Theodore had an assist on Sunday, giving him ... you ready for this? Two points in his past 13 games. Schmidt has two points, but has not scored since his first two games since returning to the lineup.
It’s been this bad.
It’s basically come down to Theodore, Schmidt, maybe Nic Hague, and three stay-at-home defensemen that do not contribute to moving the puck well at all.
Brayden McNabb has been a constant shutdown player during his tenure in Vegas. The problem is he leads the Golden Knights in penalty minutes (24) and has been one of the problems why Vegas has been unable to stay out of the box. Deryk Engelland has not helped the cause, especially when paired with Jon Merrill or Nick Holden.
There has got to be a change, or two, to get the puck moving. The current core isn’t working. Nic Hague needs to be in the lineup more, as does Jake Bischoff.
The third line needs an exorcism performed
Forget prayers, forget interventions. When Alex Tuch is not in the lineup, this line is the closest thing to anemic.
Brandon Pirri has one point on the entire season. Known for his scoring, Pirri has not done such tomfoolery at all this season. Life should be easier for him knowing Cody Glass is probably looking for him to get him on the board/help him. The poor kid is having to deal with playing with linemates that cannot score or produce anything offensively. Interchanging between Pirri and Tomas Nosek while Tuch is absent is most certainly not bueno.
Meanwhile, even if this wasn’t on his line at 5-on-5, let’s check on Cody Eakin and oh my god what is happening.
If not then, when?
The third line needs something. The power of Tuch compels this team, apparently, to the point of needing a savior for this line.
When only one-half of your top six is actually playing well, and to that you see a third line getting outworked in every facet, it doesn’t take just one man to fix everything. Although, if Tuch came through City National Arena upon wearing the appropriate garb for that of a minister that could be ready to quell any demons, would we all really be surprised?