Canadiens at Golden Knights — Game 5 Preview: The pressure is on Vegas in tonight’s pivotal matchup
It’s not an elimination game, but the Knights have to turn things around.
The Vegas Golden Knights saved their season with a 2-1 overtime victory against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 4 Sunday night at Bell Centre.
It wasn’t a convincing win, but a strong performance by Robin Lehner and key goals from Brayden McNabb and Nicolas Roy were enough to get the job done.
The Knights were able to even up the best-of-seven series at two games apiece ahead of tonight’s Game 5 battle in Vegas. It is now a best-of-three matchup, and the Knights have re-claimed home-ice advantage.
It’s perfect timing for the Knights to return home after a very rough outing in Montreal. Though the Knights outplayed the Canadiens in Game 3, they still didn’t get a ton of quality chances, failed to score enough goals despite their dominant play and lost a heartbreaker on a fluke play with less than two minutes left in regulation.
Game 4 was the opposite, as the Knights were wildly outplayed but managed to steal the game. Go figure.
Lehner was a huge part of that, finishing the night with 27 saves on 28 shots for a .964 save percentage. The only goal he gave up was on a Paul Byron breakaway near the end of the second period.
He was everything the Knights needed him to be and more, and boy did they need a lot.
The Knights played their worst game of the series and one of their worst games in the playoffs.
Through 60 minutes of regulation, the Golden Knights failed to register a single high-danger chance at 5-on-5. The only high-danger chances they had at 5-on-5 came on Roy’s overtime winner.
As you can see in the highlight video below, the Golden Knights didn’t generate many promising scoring chances when they managed to get shots through. It was the same story as Game 3, only this time, the Knights recorded less than half as many shots, failing to get quality and quantity.
The Canadiens held a 17-2 edge in high-danger Corsi, which comes out to a staggering 89.47 percent share.
The Knights were completely outplayed for most of the game, as evidenced by the fact that Montreal held expected goal share percentages of 68.85, 67.03 and 70.8 in the first, second and third periods, respectively.
Once again, the Knights struggled early in the game, managing just four shots on goal in the opening frame (Montreal had 11).
The first of those four shots came from the blue line 40 seconds into the period. William Karlsson recorded the second shot from the circles 2:10 into the frame, and Nick Holden recorded the third as he lifted the puck from a few feet in front of Lehner and sent it all the way down the ice.
The Knights will need to have a lot more in the tank tonight in order to take their second lead of the series, but all of the pressure is on the Knights. Here’s what to watch for.
What to watch for
- There are two major questions facing the Knights ahead of tonight’s game, and it’s doubtful that either will be answered until shortly before puck drop. The first is regarding the status of Chandler Stephenson, which remains unknown; the center has been unable to play in the last three games and has been missed to an outrageous degree. The other question revolves around the Vegas goaltending situation, which is back to being a thing. Pete DeBoer surprised many by turning to Lehner in Game 4. DeBoer claimed after the game that his decision had nothing to do with Fleury’s turnover that led to the game-tying goal, though Fleury was the guy until that happened. DeBoer said that the intention was to rest Fleury, but that doesn’t erase the fact that it was a risky decision given the stakes. Did it pay off? Yes. Lehner had a fantastic game and helped preserve Vegas’ season. But what does that mean now? It’s anyone’s guess as to who will man the crease tonight; from a logical standpoint, it would make sense to play Lehner, who just had his best game of the season and got the win. But it also would make sense to return to Fleury, who earned the starter’s role and carried Vegas all season. Either way, the team will need to be much better for the goaltending decision to be a major factor.
- At the end of the day, the Golden Knights have to play much better; the effort was lacking throughout Game 4 and in overtime in Game 3. By the third period of Game 4, it appeared as though the Knights were focused and fighting for the win, but their habit of waiting to compete is not sustainable. Montreal is a young, fast and energetic team with nothing to lose, and the Knights have not looked like the same team that won four straight against Colorado. The game plan for tonight is the same as it has been in recent games; the Knights just need to execute. Scoring first is always an advantage, even if it hasn’t panned out that way in recent games; however, the team that clearly deserved to win ended up losing in both games in Montreal. But early goal or not, a strong start is a must for the Knights as they look to make a statement on home ice. Generating better scoring chances should be at the top of the list. The Knights recorded 45 shots in Game 3 and 21 in Game 4, but they have yet to really test Carey Price in this series. The last three goals he has given up have been relatively soft; the McNabb goal was terrible, and Price was completely out of position as Roy out-waited him and gently lifted the puck into the net. The fact that Roy went to the net, was fighting for rebounds and was looking to score rather than throw the puck out of the zone on some ill-advised pass is encouraging, and it’s a mindset the entire team should employ. That’s especially true for the top-six forwards. Max Pacioretty was noticeably better in Game 4, recording five shots and getting an assist on the game-winner. However, he’s Vegas’ best goal-scorer, and the Knights need goals. Mark Stone has yet to record a point in four games; he takes care of a lot of the intangibles, and he is noticeable on the ice, but the Knights can only hope the floodgates open for him soon. It’s great that the defensemen as well as the bottom six, particularly the third line, have produced and played so well, but the Knights need a lot more from the star players up front. It’s now or never.
- Keep that broken record spinning because discipline, once again, could be a significant factor in tonight’s game. The officiating in this series has been completely one-sided, particularly in the last two games. It’s impossible to know if that will continue tonight, but either way, the Knights have to do more on their end to make sure Montreal doesn’t spend much time on the power play. This is especially true if Montreal happens to be in the midst of building momentum, for the extra time and space that a power play would afford some of the Canadiens’ skilled forwards could be detrimental. Considering how little both teams are scoring, every penalty has the potential to derail Vegas’ efforts. There is a lot of talent up and down the Montreal lineup, and every line has produced (or come very close multiple times) in this series. While the Vegas penalty kill has been strong all year, it’s an unnecessary risk, particularly when it comes to careless penalties, especially in the offensive zone. Those can’t happen. The Knights need to show more hunger for this win, and the whole team has to be dialed in for 60 minutes./
How to watch
Time: 6 p.m.
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM