The Vegas Golden Knights are reeling. Those are words not expected to be said after a week off from hockey.
But the reality is the Golden Knights have lost three straight games for the second time this season; the bookend being a 5-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina on Friday.
It’s the first game of a back-to-back for Vegas, so naturally it decided to start Maxime Lagace against Carolina. Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to start Saturday on the road against the Panthers.
The fourth goalie in the Golden Knights’ rotation made 27 saves but allowed four goals in his first start of the season. He’s serving backup duties in place of Malcolm Subban (undisclosed injury). Lagace has allowed at least two goals in 17 appearances with the Golden Knights. Not good, Jim.
It also didn’t help that he allowed goals like this.
Gerard Gallant challenges, but the goal stands. Minimal contact with Lagace. Doesn't look like it made much of an impact. pic.twitter.com/QEXfHrXNXU— Knights On Ice (@knightsonice) February 2, 2019
Not Lagace's proudest moment, but what a sick backhander from Aho. pic.twitter.com/LInJ6QntxW— Knights On Ice (@knightsonice) February 2, 2019
Or, oh man, this.
GOAL. Pesce scores as Lagace attempts (and fails) his best Fleury impression. pic.twitter.com/GaVeeIicMQ— Knights On Ice (@knightsonice) February 2, 2019
It was Lagace’s first action with Vegas since March 14, so it’s not fair to expect him to pitch a shutout, but man, this was not his best performance.
Nino Niederreiter, Sebastian Aho, Brett Pesce, Jordan Martinook and Justin Faulk scored for Carolina in a much-needed win; the Hurricanes are only three points behind Columbus for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference. The young Hurricanes are hanging around and continue to play solid hockey. This was a good win for them.
Meanwhile, for the Golden Knights, that’s three straight losses and four in their past five games. They have held the lead in each of their past three losses and have failed to maintain it (1-0 against Minnesota, 1-0 against Nashville, and 1-0 against Carolina). Shea Theodore scored twice for Vegas, giving him an NHL-career-high eight goals this season.
Reilly Smith returned to the lineup after missing the past seven games with an undisclosed injury. Vegas went 3-4-0 without, arguably, their best 200-foot player on the top line, but his presence did not help the Golden Knights on this night. Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Smith combined for minus-9. Of course, plus-minus is a hollow stat and should not be the end-all, be-all for determining on-ice success. But that’s not a good look for what’s considered as one of the best top lines in hockey.
The Hurricanes lead the league with 35.7 shots per game, and it showed; Carolina outshot Vegas in every period (10-6, 15-13, 7-6) for a 32-25 advantage in the game. The Hurricanes generated more pressure, and played the possession game better, despite Vegas having the 12-7 edge in high-danger chances.
There was also a new third line. Cody Eakin, Brandon Pirri and Valentin Zykov got the opportunity to provide some offensive spark to a third line that desperately needed it. The trio combined for a Corsi-for of 57.14 percent in 7:14 of action, by far the best mark of any line combination that played at least five minutes. Alas, no scoring. Pirri has now been held scoreless in four straight games. Zykov had no shots on goal in 12:32.
Vegas will look to end the losing streak Saturday against a new-look Panthers team that acquired Derick Brassard earlier in the day. Fleury will be in net. Who knows what else will change/look different? But to say the Golden Knights need a win Saturday?
Going to go on a limb and say yes.