The last-place Coyotes got key contributions from their top players; the Knights did not.
Vegas lost Max Pacioretty and Mattias Janmark to injury, though Pete DeBoer did not have updates following the game.
But despite these absences and the fact that Jonathan Marchessault was out with the flu (as was Dylan Coghlan), it’s difficult to excuse not only the result of tonight’s game but the process.
Simply put, the effort wasn’t good enough.
The Knights outshot the Coyotes 44-32 but were the better team in just one of three periods.
Sure, Coyotes netminder Scott Wedgewood made 43 saves, but aside from a sequence late in the third, the Knights failed to play with desperation for most of the night.
That wasn’t true of everyone in the lineup, including William Carrier as well as Laurent Brossoit. Brossoit had another solid showing with 29 saves on 31 shots for a .935 save percentage; he made many clutch saves throughout the game, including this one on Christian Fischer.
Once again, Brossoit kept the Knights in the game until the end; Vegas just failed to execute.
Carrier opened the scoring just beyond the midway point of the game, beating Wedgewood five-hole at 11:13 of the second after collecting his own rebound behind the net, skating around the net and turning and firing the puck along the ice.
It would prove to be the final Golden Knights goal scored at Gila River Arena, however, as Vegas was shut out the rest of the way.
The 1-0 lead lasted just 3:13 before Shayne Gostisbehere blasted one past Brossoit.
Nick Schmaltz, who recorded seven points in eight games against the Knights last year, scored the other two goals for Arizona.
The first came 3:16 into the third period and was the turning point of the game.
Schmaltz set a screen and tipped a shot from Anton Stralman for what proved to be the game-winner.
The Stralman pass.— Arizona Coyotes (@ArizonaCoyotes) February 26, 2022
The Schmaltz goal. pic.twitter.com/h5Xwk2H6QM
He added an empty-net tally with 31 seconds left in regulation for good measure, icing the win for the Coyotes, their 14th of the season.
The Golden Knights had a strong first period, but that opening frame proved to be quite costly in the end.
Vegas had two early power plays but failed to convert on both, making them 0-for-5 in their last two games (against San Jose and Arizona).
The Knights also failed to capitalize on several prime scoring chances in the form of odd-man rushes.
A 2-on-1 resulted in an unscreened wrist shot by Shea Theodore that was gloved by Wedgewood. Another squandered chance was a 3-on-1 with Keegan Kolesar, Nic Hague and Brett Howden, but the trio couldn’t finish after a nice passing play.
The Knights recorded eight high-danger chances and led 16-9 in shots and 18-7 in scoring chances in that opening frame, but they went to the locker room with nothing to show for it.
The Coyotes stepped up in the second period and ultimately scored the game-winner early in the third.
It wasn’t until very late in the third period that the Golden Knights demonstrated any sense of true urgency. The Knights had a series of near-misses thwarted by frantic stick plays and blocked shots by Coyotes skaters and Wedgewood, who somehow kept the puck out of the net. But it was too little too late.
But the bottom six and most of the blue line accounted for most of Vegas’ chances and shots, with Carrier leading the way.
Carrier scored a goal, recorded six shots and led the team in individual expected goals (0.59), individual scoring chances (7) and individual high-danger scoring chances (4).
The fourth line was responsible for nine shots on goal; the top six contributed just 11.
There were injuries and disjointed line combinations, but that’s no excuse considering the time of year and matchup.
The Knights are already feeling the effects of the loss.
The Los Angeles Kings have moved ahead of Vegas in the Pacific Division standings and now sit in second place with 63 points after securing a 4-1 win in Anaheim. The Knights currently occupy the third slot with 62 points in 52 games with a difficult matchup against Colorado tomorrow afternoon.
The Knights continue to battle injuries, and there are other factors that may be at play. But at the end of the day, the task wasn’t complicated for a team looking to not only make the playoffs but make a deep run; considering the opponent and the stakes, the Knights’ effort was inexcusable.
The time for rest and speculation is over, however.
The final 30-game stretch of the season, which includes 16 games in 30 days in March, starts tomorrow night with a home matchup against the Avalanche.
The season is on the line.