It was bound to happen sooner or later.
It took eight tries for the Golden Knights to succumb to Patrick Kane and co., but Vegas finally tasted defeat, 5-3, against Chicago at T-Mobile Arena on Wednesday. In another lifetime, Vegas losing to Chicago wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
Alas, in this lifetime, the reality is that the Golden Knights have are on a four-game winless streak (0-3-1) and have lost seven of their past nine (2-4-3). It was an opportunity for Vegas to rebound after an abysmal road trip, where they lost three of four and came away with only three points.
To go from that, to beginning a stretch of where you have five of your next six at home and starting with a dud against a team you never lost to before, is egregious.
We’ll attempt to find five things wrong here without harping on the same problems over the last couple of weeks, but it’ll be tough.
Another blown lead
For the fifth time in the past seven games, the Golden Knights failed to maintain a lead.
If you’re looking for any ounce of good news, at least they got this blown lead out of the way quickly.
Vegas jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals from William Carrier and William Karlsson by 6:29. Sixteen seconds later, Patrick Kane scored for the first of a three-point night for the superstar forward.
But it was the second period when the floodgates opened. The Blackhawks scored twice in a span of 45 seconds with both goals coming on Vegas errors. Calvin de Haan’s first goal with Chicago came about because Cody Glass and Nic Hague collided in the neutral zone, leaving Vegas scrambling to recover defensively, but it was too late.
Then a turnover by Nate Schmidt in the defensive zone allowed Chicago to control possession for the entirety of the ensuing shift, leaving Erik Gustafsson to score the go-ahead goal and put Chicago up for good.
“Before the game tonight we talked about having energy,” said Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant. “After two periods I was satisfied with our game, I really was. Then they scored those two goals back-to-back. I thought our energy was good, our passion was good, and we had unbelievable scoring chances. We should have had six or seven goals the first two periods in my opinion. To lose the game the way we did in the third period it’s not good. We were disappointed to lose tonight, but that’s the way it is.”
This is Vegas’ third blown multi-goal lead in the past seven games and fourth overall. You’ll remember that Boston game on Oct. 8. It’s incomprehensible how this remains a problem. To play well for early stints only to crumble in such a swift fashion has become the norm since Halloween.
Playing a consistent 60-minute game seems like a foreign concept for the Golden Knights, no matter who is in the lineup.
Speaking of the lineup
Well, that was unexpected.
In need of a spark, Gallant went outside the box. And boy, this was about miles beyond the box.
Max Pacioretty, who entered scoring four goals in the past five games, was moved to the top line with Karlsson and Reilly Smith.
Paul Stastny was moved down to center a line with the returning Alex Tuch and Cody Glass.
Finally, Mark Stone and Jonathan Marchessault were flanked to the side with ... Cody Eakin centering.
There were some good moments. The forecheck, which was seemingly lost in Tuch’s absence, seemed to find its way back. Tuch and his linemates started the game. His energy was infectious from puck drop, and it was one of the reasons why Vegas got out to that two-goal lead.
The final Corsi numbers, per Natural Stat Trick ... oh boy:
67-71-19 = 13/8 (61.9 percent)
89-26-9 = 8/5 (61.54 percent)
Carrier - Nicolas Roy - Ryan Reaves = 7/7 (50 percent)
And, finally, brace yourself:
81-21-61 = 7/10 (41.18 percent)
How does a line with Stone and Marchessault fall that deep? There’s your easy answer.
Cody Eakin is not getting it done
To break up this top six, arguably one of the best top-six units in the NHL, there has to be some sort of reason.
The reason, to my own opinion, was to get Eakin going. After a career-high 41 points last season, the Golden Knights banked on Eakin coming close to that production in his contract year. His sudden scoring ability and 200-foot sense on the penalty kill are the only reasons why Vegas didn’t take advantage of how high his value was and move him this summer.
Instead, moving on from guys like Erik Haula and Colin Miller (who could very much help this team at this juncture) is coming back to bite Vegas at this current point in time.
It’s one thing for Eakin to not produce offensively when he doesn’t have the talent around him. Both Eakin and Glass had to somehow carry that third line over to the finish line. When that didn’t work, putting him with two proven scorers was a logical idea.
But Eakin, who left early in the third period with cramps, did not register a shot on goal on Wednesday. Stone and Marchessault had four each.
The Golden Knights’ third line has been anemic since their inception. There has been no solution. Clearly, if Eakin can’t even make it in a top-six role on a line that somehow includes your top-dollar guy, then why bother?
It might be time to scratch Eakin or move him to the fourth line, and in turn, it would be time to move Glass to center and find someone else who can best complete that line. Right now, Eakin is a $3.85 million albatross that is not helping the cause.
Nate Schmidt is not all there yet
The importance of 88 in this lineup is evident; he’s your top shutdown defenseman, he’s assigned to play the opposing team’s top players, and he quarterbacks one of the power play units. So, him missing 12 of 13 games doesn’t help with needing more of Schmidt to produce on the blue line.
Wednesday was the most obvious sign that Schmidt may either not be 100 percent fully back yet, or he’s seeing the situation unfold and is attempting to do too much.
He had three moments that were just mind-boggling.
There was the Gustafsson goal. Schmidt turned it over in the d-zone at 4:17 of the second period, mere moments after allowing Chicago to come back and tie the game. That turnover allowed the Blackhawks to keep possession of the puck for 37 seconds before Gustafsson gave them the lead.
The second came at 17:22 of the second period where, if not for Marc-Andre Fleury making a couple of magnificent saves, the score could’ve been much worse.
Then in the third period, on Dylan Strome’s goal to ice it, Schmidt enters the puck through the zone and dumps it in once he gets into the attacking zone. Chicago reacts accordingly and Strome is off to the races once Chicago regains possession.
Schmidt, and Shea Theodore for that matter, need to be better offensively. Theodore has two points in the past 14 games. That’s not good for your guys that are supposed to initiate the offense from the blue line.
The sky isn’t falling ... yet.
But depending on how this stretch continues to go, it could start to crack.
It was an ideal situation to come back home, facing a team you’ve never lost, as well as a favorable divisional stretch of games coming up.
And the Golden Knights do that.
It should also be noted that Vegas is 4-4-2 at home. Those four regulation losses was a mark Vegas didn’t reach until January last season. It is inexcusable, these shortcomings. To be at the one-quarter mark to where the Golden Knights are at, this has the potential to get very ugly.
Not to mention there’s no time to really take a step back and wonder what you can do to fix everything. The Golden Knights have a back-to-back this weekend in L.A. and back home against Calgary.
“We came out playing the right way. It’s just frustrating,” Fleury said. “We’ve been losing a lot lately, and at home. We believe in each other and we believe in our team. Between us in the room, we have confidence in our team. We shouldn’t be having ups and downs like we have all year. We have to find consistency in our game and find ways to get points, get wins.”