The Vegas Golden Knights found themselves trailing early and never recovered Thursday night in Game 6 against the Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks went on to win the game by a final score of 4-0; the victory came on the back of another exemplary effort by Thatcher Demko, and Vancouver was able to capitalize on Vegas defensive mistakes, much like in Game 5.
The Canucks have now climbed back from a 3-1 deficit to even up the series at 3-3. Game 7 will be Friday night.
Once again, the Golden Knights were the better team in Game 6, dominating possession and driving play. But they couldn’t find ways to score. Demko’s positioning was solid, and the Knights failed to put themselves in a position to score ugly goals, either from a fortunate rebound, a crease battle or especially on deflections and tips. They didn’t get enough traffic in front of the net, and Demko stopped every shot he had clear sight on (although he stopped every shot period). He made 48 saves in the game.
But the Golden Knights also missed a fair chunk of their shots, including some of their best opportunities. In total, they missed 21 shots, which was up from 14 in Game 5.
Unlike in Game 5, the Knights gave up an early goal.
Vancouver scored less than three minutes into the contest after an initial burst of pressure to start the game. A mistake by the Brayden McNabb and Nate Schmidt combo in their own end again led to a goal against, this time from Jake Virtanen:
Both defensemen were beaten to the puck at some point in the play, and Virtanen forced the puck past an unsuspecting Robin Lehner on a wrap-around
Vegas set up several plays that could have turned into goals, but Demko (with some help from his posts) kept them out.
The post shot by Reilly Smith on the power play was the closest the Golden Knights came to a goal in the first 40 minutes. There were the multiple east-to-west passes the Golden Knights made but couldn’t secure. Then there was this play by Shea Theodore, the one Vegas player who has managed to beat Demko in this series:
The net result of all of this? Nothing.
The Golden Knights simply couldn’t get enough ugly chances (deflections and tips). Beating Demko proved to be an impossible task for the Knights.
To start the third period, Vancouver created another scoring chance after staving off initial pressure from the Golden Knights. Quinn Hughes rushed the puck into the zone, no Knights stayed with him, and he was able to set up J.T. Miller for this shot:
Elias Pettersson, much like in Game 5, was able to set up a crucial screen on Lehner. The Golden Knights have to crack down on that and do a better job of forcing him out of the way, but they didn’t in this game. Theodore created a double-screen effect as well.
The Golden Knights allowed too many rush opportunities to the Canucks in the third period. Luckily, Lehner saved all of them. But that can’t happen again, especially in Game 7.
Later in the third, Pettersson again set up a screen in front of Lehner, but as Theodore went to push him aside (a.k.a. what needed to be done), he accidentally screened Lehner himself. That led to this goal from Hughes:
Look. Pettersson is skinny and movable. He’s not Paul Stastny or Ryan Reaves, guys it would take actual effort to shove out of the way. Vegas should have taken the penalty instead of letting him stand there. They need to physically move him, but do so without getting in front of the goaltender. That didn’t happen.
Vancouver put the seal on the game when Bo Horvat tapped in an empty-net goal to make it 4-0 with under five minutes left in the third.
The Golden Knights continued the trend of never winning a playoff game when posting more than 40 shots. They’re dominating possession, but they’re not getting the type of shots they need in order to best test Demko, and that’s making the difference.
It’s hard to assign individual blame, at least offensively (Theodore can be a lot better at clearing screens, but then again, most of Vegas’ defense can be). Everybody’s trying, and every player ended up with a shot attempt. The only two without shots on net were Zach Whitecloud and Chandler Stephenson.
Smith ended the game with a full expected goal (1.07 to be exact). Stastny had .89. This team is trying, but the Knights are not getting deflections, which may be the only way of beating Demko. They need to generate shots he stands absolutely no chance on. Otherwise, he’ll continue to make the save without much difficulty.
For Vegas, it’s also the little things that need to improve. Making sure passes reach their intended recipient. Making sure shots stay on net. Getting net-front presences, something Vancouver is not struggling with, and keeping them planted there. The Golden Knights need more out of Stastny, Reaves and Alex Tuch, guys who can create those deflections and stay in front of the net.
The power play could use a boost as well. Vegas went 0-for-5 on the man advantage, which could have gone a long towards fighting back in this game. Even with an extra man, it was rare that the Knights forced Demko to make incredible stops.
As a result, Vegas blew another opportunity to close out the series.
Now the Knights must contend with a Game 7 against a confident Canucks team Friday night.
It’s kill or be killed time.