Colorado’s Nazem Kadri scored with just 41 seconds left in regulation to help the Avs split the two-game series leading up to Saturday’s outdoor game.
Once again, it was a very tightly-contested battle that came down to the wire; it did not go in Vegas’ favor tonight.
The Knights had difficulty containing Colorado’s speed in the opening frame; Vegas’ three penalties in the span of just over eight minutes certainly did not help. While the Knights’ impressive penalty kill came through once again and killed off all three, Colorado still managed to open the scoring.
It was Nathan MacKinnon who found twine on a one-timer from the slot trailing an odd-man rush for Colorado; a blown coverage by Vegas afforded the young superstar enough time and space to beat Marc-Andre Fleury just over seven minutes into the contest.
All things considered, though, the Knights were quite fortunate to be down by just one after 20 minutes.
Vegas recovered in the second period with a much better effort. The Knights outshot Colorado 12-8 and led in Corsi (23-19) at 5-on-5.
A late power play led to Vegas’ first goal of the game as Max Pacioretty potted his eighth of the season and second in this series to tie things up at 1-1.
Cody Glass’ screen took away the eyes of Philipp Grubauer, and Pacioretty made no mistake.
But it took Colorado just 63 seconds to respond.
Brandon Saad blew past Alex Pietrangelo, cut into the crease and managed to get the puck past Fleury with a little help from Alec Martinez, whose stick made contact with Saad’s just before the puck trickled through Fleury five-hole.
It’s worth noting, however, that Martinez made a series of strong plays earlier in the frame, one of which was a goal-saving stop in front of a wide-open net.
But the comeback was nullified almost immediately, which once again left Vegas trailing by one at intermission.
The Knights carried over the strong play into the third and did something they haven’t done much of lately: score a goal at 5-on-5.
It was a good old-fashioned greasy goal, too. After many attempts around the net, Jonathan Marchessault lifted the puck over sticks and the sprawling Grubauer stretched out in the crease to even things up at 6:52 of the third.
Though Vegas has the better of the play, both teams traded chances, and it appeared as though the game was heading for overtime.
Kadri had other plans.
Colorado won a key faceoff in Vegas’ zone late in the game, after which Kadri collected a juicy rebound and lifted the puck into the net to clinch the win.
It was a surprising finish for the Knights, who fought back from two one-goal deficits but fell just short late in the end.
Fleury stopped 22 of 25 shots on the night for an .880 save percentage; it was the second time this season that he has finished with a save percentage under .900 and just his second loss this year.
Shea Theodore returned to Vegas’ lineup; he assisted on Pacioretty’s goal and got 19:16 of ice time.
The game marks the third regulation loss for Vegas (10-3-1). The Knights remain in first place in the division.
Despite the fact that it was the Knights’ third game in four nights, Vegas bounced back after a rough opening frame.
At the end of the night, Vegas held a slight edge in possession with a 52.34 percent Corsi at 5-on-5. The Knights managed an impressive 71.43 percent high-danger Corsi share (15-6, 13-4 in the second and third) and had the advantage in expected goal share (56.03 percent) as well.
Part of that can and sholud be attributed to Grubauer, who had another solid performance; he stopped 27 of 29 shots in his eighth win of the season.
While these teams have been evenly matched so far, it will be interesting to see if things change if/when Colorado gets key players, such as captain Gabriel Landeskog and defensemen Cale Makar and Samuel Girard, among others, back in the lineup.
But overall, the Knights continue to struggle at 5-on-5. It’s a positive that the power play has clicked in recent games, but power-play production is not something the Knights can rely on.
Vegas also cannot rely on Fleury standing on his head all year; it’s simply not sustainable. He made some key saves, but tonight’s game serves as a reminder that he is still human. He can’t cover up all of Vegas’ mistakes, and the Knights can’t expect to win many games by scoring one 5-on-5 goal every few games.
Vegas will have a chance to respond as these teams are set to clash once again on Saturday in the much-anticipated outdoor game at Lake Tahoe.
The Knights should consider not wearing the gold helmets, as the team is now 0-2-0 when they’re part of the equation.