Kings 4, Golden Knights 2: Vegas spends too much time on penalty kill in disappointing loss

Alex Pietrangelo returned to Vegas’ lineup, but the game got away from Vegas.

The Vegas Golden Knights lost 4-2 to the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night in the first half of a back-to-back set. It’s the second time Vegas has lost to the Kings this season, and it was the Knights’ first and only loss at home in March.

With the loss (and a Colorado win), the Knights are now out of first place in the West Division. However, they have a game in hand and trail by just one point. Tonight was the first half of a back-to-back, but tomorrow night’s contest against the Minnesota Wild is that game in hand.

As for tonight, Vegas allowed the first two goals of the game to the Kings in the first period. Once again, the Knights gave up a very quick goal, this one just under two minutes in.

Andreas Athanasiou out-skated William Carrier and Zach Whitecloud to put the Kings up one with a breakaway tally. Lias Andersson would double the lead later in the first period after a pileup in front of the net.

The Golden Knights put just eight shots on goal in the first period. Part of that was due to their multiple misses — they had five missed shots in the first period, four of which were at 5-on-5. But they kept committing penalties, and that was a major culprit in the final outcome. Vegas put three players in the box in the first period alone, though the Knights killed all of them off.

Altogether, the Vegas penalty kill spent 12:45 on ice, allowing just five shots and three high-danger chances to the Kings, including on a five-minute major. The Golden Knights generated 0.13 expected goals to 0.68 against, or a 16.22 percent expected goal share, ninth-best this season. The penalty kill was easily the best part of this game for the Golden Knights.

William Karlsson got the Knights on the board when he scored at 9:41 of the second period to cut the lead in half:

The goal was a result of sustained pressure and good forechecking. The Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith line finished with a 52.15 percent expected goal share and 53.85 percent shot share in 7:37 of 5-on-5 time. They played the most time together of any Golden Knights line.

Unfortunately for the Knights, the Kings followed that goal less than three minutes later as Marc-Andre Fleury lost a puck and allowed an easy tap-in to Jaret Anderson-Dolan. Later in the second period, Fleury strayed too far from his net as Alex Iafallo got behind the Golden Knights’ defense and scored into an empty net after avoiding Fleury’s stick.

While Fleury was at least somewhat accountable for two of the goals, he faced 3.99 expected goals against and was perfect from both medium- and low-danger areas in this game. He allowed four goals on 13 high-danger shots and made 26 saves on 30 shots. He made some stellar saves later in the game, but he was not as sharp in the middle frame as he has been for most of this season.

As things continued to go downhill, Chandler Stephenson delivered a dirty hit in the corner on rookie Tobias Bjornfot, taking a major and game misconduct:

Drawing blood in today’s NHL is an instant no-no. The Golden Knights came in with 11 forwards in this game as Ryan Reaves was listed as out with a lower-body injury during warmups, and Cody Glass was assigned to the AHL’s Henderson Silver Knights on Tuesday. So the game misconduct meant Vegas had to play the third period with just 10.

The hit will likely result in further disciplinary action for Stephenson.

The Golden Knights would start the third period by killing off more than three minutes of Stephenson’s remaining major. Shea Theodore would then score his second point of the night and first goal to cut into the lead and put Vegas back in the game:

Theodore led the team with 0.65 expected goals and three high-danger chances.

The rest of the third period entailed a mixture of injuries (Whitecloud left the game with an injury, Max Pacioretty looked injured at one point), penalties and the Kings drawing iron, as they hit two posts in less than a minute.

This was the least amount of time the Golden Knights have spent at 5-on-5 in a game this season. They played just 37:27 of full-strength hockey and were the better team during that part of the game, at least in terms of quantity, taking 29 shots to 24 against. However, Los Angeles controlled quality as the Kings generated 3.27 expected goals, while the Knights generated 2.62 at 5-on-5.

The Golden Knights’ defense was a problem in this game. That’s despite three defensemen — Theodore, Whitecloud and Nicolas Hague — finishing with expected goal shares over 50 percent. Only one Vegas skater, Nicolas Roy, finished without allowing a goal, and Roy played just 9:52.

Alex Pietrangelo returned to the Knights’ lineup in this game. He played 22:49 and took seven shots, had one giveaway and two high-danger chances. Meanwhile, he had a 30.82 percent expected goal share and 28.57 percent high-danger share.

With just 11 forwards to start the game and 10 to finish the game, the Golden Knights saw some odd minutes throughout this game. Smith played 19:18, second among Golden Knights forwards, and Mark Stone played 22:48 — more than both Alec Martinez and Theodore.

The Golden Knights are no longer in first place in the West, but only by sheer number of points. The Colorado Avalanche took over that spot with 50 points in 35 games, but Vegas is at 49 points in 34 games. Vegas still has a lead in terms of points percentage and will have a chance to move back into first tomorrow night as they take on the Wild at 7:30 p.m.