After an inauspicious start to their first-round series against the San Jose Sharks, the Vegas Golden Knights responded in a big way Friday night when they took down their division rival 5-3 in SAP Center.
Vegas wasted no time getting on the board. Just 58 seconds in, Cody Eakin scored his first goal of the playoffs to give his team the immediate lead. Not long after, Colin Miller and Max Pacioretty netted goals of their own, giving Vegas a three-goal lead not even halfway into the first frame.
In typical Sharks fashion, though, they kept things interesting by scoring three unanswered goals of their own to tie the contest late in the first period. Luckily for the good guys, the Knights managed to stop the bleeding and reclaim the lead with a pair of goals from Mark Stone and William Karlsson, respectively. This time, however, there was no looking back. The series is now tied 1-1 and heads to Vegas for the next two contests.
Discipline remains an issue
The Golden Knights struggled mightily away from 5-on-5 in Game 1. San Jose not only scored on the power play, but also at 3-on-3, 4-on-4 and 6-on-5 (Marc-Andre Fleury was on the bench for the extra attacker). Luckily, the Golden Knights managed to improve significantly at special teams in Game 2.
Just don’t expect them to win many games when they hand the other team eight (8!) power plays.
“It’s a big thing against them. You have to stay disciplined. We know that, and we’re not doing it,” said Jonathan Marchessault after Saturday’s practice. “We’re giving them too many chances to come back in the game. I think we just need to stay a little bit more composed, not get involved in penalties and stay smart.”
But why are the Knights taking so many penalties? They’ve been one of the least penalized teams in the NHL dating back to last season. Are the Knights just being outplayed, causing them to take penalties, or are they just getting sucked into unnecessary extracurriculars?
“I think it’s the emotion of the playoffs,” said Marchessault. “I think we’re being undisciplined. Could be just a little smarter, do one extra stride and catch him and stuff like that that puts us in a better spot.”
Penalty kill steps up
Regardless of why the penalties were called, one thing remained constant — Vegas’ penalty kill was masterful in Game 2. They allowed San Jose just one goal on eight opportunities on the man advantage, and actually managed to outscore San Jose’s power play.
Unsurprisingly, the play of William Karlsson and Reilly Smith on the penalty kill wound up securing Vegas its first victory of the playoffs. Toward the midway point of the third period, Smith picked up a loose puck along the half boards and fired a perfect feed to Karlsson, who had blazed past Brent Burns and Joe Thornton at center ice. Aaron Dell never had a chance.
“The penalty killing was awesome,” said Gerard Gallant after Saturday’s practice. “We outscored their power play, which doesn’t happen too often. They have a great power play. Special teams were a big part of it last night and we did a real good job there.”
Of course, despite the penalty kill’s mammoth-sized effort, it’s rare to win a hockey game after accumulating 22 penalty minutes. This was echoed by Gallant during his post-game presser Friday night. San Jose’s power play can be lethal, and Vegas will need to stay composed in order to keep the momentum going in Game 3.
Disallowed goal shifts momentum
Just 51 seconds into the middle period, it appeared San Jose had taken a 4-3 lead courtesy of a Brent Burns slapper from the point. However, the goal was immediately waived off for goaltender interference. Logan Couture, who was positioning himself in front of the net to create a screen, made contact with Marc-Andre Fleury’s head. Not only did the officials disallow the goal, but they also awarded Vegas a power play, which they did end up converting on.
The call on the ice wound up causing a huge momentum shift in Vegas’ favor. Naturally, Gerard Gallant was happy with the call after the game.
“It was awesome,” said Gallant. “It was definitely the right call. I mean, he hit him in the head. He’s trying to play the puck, he’s defending his goal, just trying to play the puck and the guy skates through the blue paint and bumps him in the head. To me, it’s pretty obvious.”
Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer’s opinion, on the other hand, could not have been more different from Gallant’s.
“The travesty of the call is if they had called it goalie interference, we could’ve challenged it, and I think the league would have recognized Fleury was outside the crease, probably awarded us a goal and we’re up 4-3 at that time and it’s a different game,” said DeBoer. “Instead, it’s a two-goal swing. He calls the penalty even though there’s zero intent to hit Fleury and Fleury’s outside the area that he should be, and then they score on the power play. That one call is a two-goal swing in the game and it’s devastating for our group. It’s a shame.”
Regardless of what the call should have been, Vegas benefitted from it. Without luck being on Vegas’ side, though, this game very well could have gotten away from them.
Miller makes impact (both positive and negative) in return to lineup
For those hoping to see defenseman Colin Miller in Game 2, your wish came true. After being a healthy scratch in Game 1, Miller was back in the lineup Friday night, and it didn’t take long for him to make an impact (shorthanded, no less).
It certainly wasn’t a perfect night for Miller, though. Clutch shorthanded goal aside, Miller took a pair of penalties that helped San Jose get back into the game — the cross-checking penalty he took late in the first period, which was easily avoidable, particularly stands out.
While Miller’s return wasn’t exactly triumphant, he certainly did show why he’s such an important player to have in the lineup.
“He’s probably upset with the penalties he took, but then he scores a big shorthanded goal coming out of the penalty box, and he had done some real good things,” said Gallant. “We want our guys to be consistent. We want to play a strong game, eliminate the mistakes, but mistakes are part of hockey. We go back and watch the tape, there were scoring chances both ways, some real good players made mistakes on both teams last night. So it’s easy to pick out Colin Miller, but there were a lot of guys that made a lot of mistakes and took some penalties. Colin is a good player. He’ll be fine and we like him a lot.”
Stone paying dividends
Remember that one time George McPhee acquired Mark Stone at the trade deadline and the Golden Knights all of a sudden started playing really well? Well, Stone’s presence is still paying off for the Golden Knights.
Two games into the postseason, Stone has already netted three goals (two on the power play) and continues to play the hard-nosed game that makes him one of the better 200-foot players in hockey. In fact, it was Stone’s goal Friday night that wound up being the game-winner.
“This time of the year, that’s what you need,” said Gallant. “He’s a competitive guy, he finishes some hard checks, he plays the game real hard. We heard a lot of good things about him before we got him and you knew him as a player, but playoffs are a different level and he really showed up big time last night.”