This has been an ugly stretch for the Knights, who are coming off arguably the most disappointing loss of the season, a 5-3 defeat at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who scored five unanswered goals in the second and third periods to climb out of a 3-0 hole.
On the surface, tonight’s matchup is significantly more favorable for the Golden Knights.
That’s because the Montreal Canadiens are the worst team in the NHL by both points (21) and points percentage (.276). The team that eliminated Vegas from the third round of the 2021 postseason and went on to lose to Tampa Bay in the Stanley Cup Final has won just eight of 38 games in 2021-22.
They’ll have some momentum heading into tonight after snapping a six-game losing skid with a 5-3 win against Dallas on Tuesday.
The Canadiens are 1-2-2 in January; it’s clear there’s a problem when the Golden Knights’ recent track record strongly resembles that of the 32nd-ranked team in the league.
In Monday’s loss, the Golden Knights were fantastic in the opening frame, scoring three goals against a red-hot Penguins team. But by puck drop at the start the second, the Knights took themselves out of the game.
Two early penalties in the second led to the first tally, and Pittsburgh responded with another shortly thereafter. It took just 28 seconds in the third period for Pittsburgh to erase Vegas’ lead, and the Pens scored the game-winner less than two minutes later.
At the end of the day, there weren’t many positive takeaways, even through a lens of optimism. The Knights scored three goals on seven shots in the first period and followed that up with an epic collapse. The offense wasn’t good enough, the defense wasn’t good enough and the goaltending wasn’t good enough, and the coaching staff failed to make adjustments to help the Knights recover.
Giving up early goals has been plaguing the Knights for some time. Robin Lehner made several big stops on other opportunities, yet the Knights still managed to yield two goals in the span of just 2:12 in a must-win third period.
The Canadiens are not the Penguins, but the Knights have a lot of areas to clean up in their own game before worrying about the opponent.
Neutral-zone play is one of them; another is defending around the net. Lehner doesn’t move well laterally, and the Knights’ soft play around the crease only exacerbates the problem.
The outcome of tonight’s game won’t make or break the Golden Knights’ season, nor will it define this team’s capabilities. However, there’s something to be said about taking advantage of a better matchup and actually putting in a strong 60-minute effort to stop the bleeding of a recent stretch that has seen the Knights win one out of six games.
Vegas is fortunate to remain at the top of the Pacific Division with 48 points; the Kings, Ducks and Sharks also have 40 games in the books, but Calgary — trailing Vegas by six points in the standings — has five games in hand, as do the stumbling Oilers, who are 10 points back.
Games in hand don’t equate to points, especially if multiple back-to-backs will be worked into the schedules of teams who had many games postponed. But the Knights have wasted a golden opportunity to run away with the division.
The Penguins are playing extremely well, but good teams find ways to win, and the Knights were unable to do so despite having a huge head start after 20 minutes.
The Knights defeated the Habs 5-2 when these teams met in Montreal in early November; this will be the first time the Canadiens return to T-Mobile Arena since last year’s postseason matchup. The Knights have an all-time record of 2-2-3 against Montreal in the regular season.
Former Golden Knights first-round draft pick Nick Suzuki leads the Habs in scoring with 21 points in 38 games; the only other player with at least 20 points is Jonathan Drouin, who has six goals and 14 points in 31 games.
Montreal has the worst power play in the league, operating at just 12.2 percent, while the penalty kill ranks 27th (74.6 percent).
But the Canadiens’ special teams performed well in Tuesday’s win against Dallas, scoring once on the power play and once shorthanded (despite giving up a very late power-play goal when Dallas pulled the goalie in the final two minutes of regulation).
Goaltender Sam Montembeault picked up his second win of the season (first since Nov. 20) with a 48-save performance; the Canadiens gave up 51 shots in the effort, but he and the penalty kill came through, going 6-for-7 on the night.
It was just Montreal’s second win since Nov. 27.
The Canadiens have scored on the power play in five of their eight wins this season. The Penguins’ power-play goal kickstarted their comeback; the Knights can’t afford to make life easier for the other team.
Keys to the game
Don’t blow a three-goal lead or surrender five unanswered goals
This is somewhat facetious. Sort of.
The Knights need to put Monday’s debacle behind them, but they have to bounce back and fix the glaring issues that contributed to the loss. They can’t let the game slip away, they can’t surrender all momentum and they can’t go 10-plus minutes without a shot on goal and expect to win. Three-goal leads obtained in dominant fashion have to be protected. That’s especially true against a team coming off a win; Montreal got Tyler Toffoli back in the lineup the other night, and any NHL team has more confidence after a big win.
Play a full 60-minute effort, including at the start of periods
As evidenced by Monday’s loss, hockey games are not 20 minutes long. So as well as Vegas played in that first period, it wasn’t enough to secure the win, and Vegas didn’t deserve the two points. Pittsburgh deserves credit for the rally, but the Knights could have made a few adjustments that would have gone a long way in keeping the Penguins in check. The Knights can’t take the Canadiens lightly and can’t allow Montreal to dictate the game. Monday’s game was over as soon as the Knights took their foot off the gas.
Rediscover the T-Mobile magic
Playing in T-Mobile Arena used to be a huge advantage for the Golden Knights, as the atmosphere is considered one of the best in the league. Somehow, that hasn’t been the case this year. Through 40 games, the Knights have already matched or nearly reached their home loss totals from all four previous seasons. The most regulation losses Vegas has recorded at home in a single season is 12, and that came in an 82-game span in Year 2. Monday was the team’s 10th regulation loss on home ice in less than half a season.
That can’t happen.
Golden Knights: Home/road splits
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How to watch
Time: 7 p.m.
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM