Golden Knights’ recent slump leaves them increasingly vulnerable in tight Pacific Division race
The Knights also aren’t far from being on the wrong side of the wildcard race.
The Vegas Golden Knights need a win.
The Knights’ 4-3 overtime loss to Los Angeles on Friday was the team’s third defeat in a row. It was an improvement after getting shut out in consecutive games for the first time in franchise history, but it was another misstep for a team that continues to be consistently inconsistent.
It also marked the seventh home loss in 10 games (3-4-3) since the start of the new year.
But inconsistency has been the watchword for Vegas over the last seven weeks. Not only have the Knights been inconsistent during games, but their overall results have been all over the place.
The Knights went 1-2-2 to kick off 2022 before securing back-to-back wins. They lost the next two games, then beat Tampa Bay in a shootout, which was the first of three straight wins, including a 5-2 win against Alex Tuch and the Sabres as well as a 4-0 victory against Edmonton. Then came the current three-game losing streak.
After finishing strong in December on a 7-1-0 run, the Knights have since traded wins and losses regularly:
- Overtime loss (5-4 vs. WPG)
- Regulation loss (3-2 vs. NSH)
- Regulation win (5-1 vs. NYR)
- Regulation loss (2-1 vs. CHI)
- Shootout loss (4-3 vs. TOR)
- Regulation loss (5-3 vs. PIT)
- Overtime win (4-3 vs. MTL)
- Regulation win (1-0 @ WSH)
- Overtime loss (4-3 @ CAR)
- Regulation loss (4-1 @ FLA)
- Shootout win (3-2 @ TBL)
- Regulation win (5-2 vs. BUF)
- Regulation win (4-0 @ EDM)
- Regulation loss (6-0 @ CGY)
- Regulation loss (2-0 vs. COL)
- Overtime loss (4-3 vs. LAK)/
All teams go through losing streaks, and though it’s a microcosm of a larger issue, the team’s recent stretch of three straight losses is relatively minor.
But beyond the inconsistent play and injury setbacks the Knights continue to face, the subtle unease surrounding this recurring pattern is becoming more and more palpable as a result of the larger context of this particular skid.
Simply put, the rest of the Pacific Division is waking up, but the Golden Knights have hit the snooze button.
That’s a problem.
Since Friday night, all four of the teams within four points of the Knights in the division standings have added two more points to their season totals.
Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles and Anaheim all won their respective games Saturday night; two of those teams are surging, another is really starting to click and the last continues to exceed pre-season expectations.
The Flames have won nine games in a row and have outscored their opponents 39-14 in that stretch; Calgary has scored at least four goals in seven of their last eight games and has topped five goals five times. Plus, since delivering last week’s 6-0 drubbing, the Flames have acquired Tyler Toffoli to further boost their offense and forward depth.
The Oilers have won five straight since making a coaching change. Edmonton had been on a downward spiral, going 3-7-1 in December and 4-4-2 in January in a stretch that included six- and seven-game losing streaks. But since Jay Woodcroft took over behind the bench, the Oilers are a perfect 5-0-0, have outscored their opponents 22-8 and are finally getting some reliable goaltending.
The addition of Evander Kane certainly hasn’t hurt; he’s chipped in eight points in 10 games while enabling the Oilers to ice three scoring lines. Zach Hyman has goals in three straight and in four out of the last five games, and even Connor McDavid has seen an uptick in production; he wasn’t the problem, but the team is firing on all cylinders and has gone from a despondent group to a very confident club.
The Knights had a front-row seat the other night to the Kings’ offensive capabilities; Adrian Kempe had two more goals in a three-point performance last night, helping Los Angeles sweep its back-to-back. Viktor Arvidsson and Phillip Danault give the Kings their best secondary scoring line since the That 70’s Line, and Danault — known more for his defensive play — set a career high in goals (14) the other night against Vegas. The Kings are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games and have taken two of three meetings against the Knights this season.
Even Anaheim had a bounceback victory last night after losing four straight. Troy Terry potted his 26th of the season to break a four-game goalless drought, and Trevor Zegras continued his bid for the Calder with three assists for his second straight multi-point game. Adam Henrique has three goals in his last two games with Ryan Getzlaf out of the lineup, and Rickard Rakell has goals in four out of his last six games. The Ducks got goals from all four lines in their 7-4 win against the Canucks, who trail Vegas by eight points through 51 games (Vegas has played 50).
The Knights, meanwhile, are 0-2-1 in their last three games and 6-6-4 in 2022 after going 10-3-0 in December.
That makes the Pacific Division race a tight one.
In fact, the Knights, Oilers and Kings are separated by just one point, and all three (not accounting for games in hand) trail Calgary by no more than five.
Edmonton and Vegas both play today; no matter what happens, Edmonton and Los Angeles will still have a game in hand, while Calgary will have three.
If the Knights are unable to come away with two points, that will leave them with 60 points in 51 games.
If Edmonton also loses, the Knights will remain in second place in the Pacific, but the Kings would own the ultimate tiebreaker over the Oilers. That has no lasting implications since the Oilers have more overall wins at the moment, but it still gives both teams that much more motivation moving forward while simultaneously throwing a little pressure Vegas’ way.
As for the Ducks, a Vegas loss will keep Anaheim three points back, but the Knights will have just one game in hand instead of two.
A Vegas loss will keep the Knights four points behind Calgary, who will gain an extra game in hand, giving the Flames a potential 10-point cushion for first place.
A Vegas win tonight would bring the Knights within two points of Calgary, though the Flames will have three games in hand. It would also extend Vegas’ lead to three points over Edmonton (if the Oilers lose) and Los Angeles, who will each have one game in hand.
Games in hand do not necessarily equate to points, but it’s a variable that still merits consideration.
After all, the Oilers have a slight edge over the Knights in points percentage despite trailing by one point, and a Vegas loss tonight would give the Knights a points percentage of .588, falling just under Los Angeles’ .590.
In any case, the Knights are one or two points away from losing one of the three Pacific Division playoff slots.
Nashville and Los Angeles currently hold the two wildcard slots; the Predators have 60 points in 50 games (just like Vegas) but own the tiebreaker with 27 regulation and overtime wins compared to Vegas’ 24.
But the Knights are only a few bad games away from being on the wrong side of the wildcard race. Anaheim trails by three points (though Vegas has two games in hand), and Dallas has 56 points with two games in hand. Either could overtake the Knights this month.
Unlike the Eastern Conference, the Western Conference standings are very tight and growing more and more competitive every game.
The Knights have to turn things around.
They don’t need to be the best team in hockey in the regular season, but alternating between some of the worst efforts of the season and some of the best is no way to string wins (of any kind) together.
Of course, the playoffs don’t start tomorrow; these scenarios have minimal and temporary consequences. But that doesn’t change the fact that the Knights have been pumping the brakes while most of the division is stepping on the gas.
It won’t take much for Vegas to right the ship, but it’s a balancing act with the introduction of Jack Eichel, injuries to key players and cap constraints and uncertainty ahead of the upcoming trade deadline.
Vegas has three remaining games this month, starting with tonight’s tilt against San Jose.
On the surface, it’s a favorable matchup for the Knights, who hold an all-time regular-season record of 16-1-3 against the Sharks.
But each loss becomes more and more costly as the year progresses, and the Knights’ casual play of late is not going to get the job done if they hope to be a serious contender in the second season.
There’s no time like the present to get off the schneid.
How will the 2021-22 regular season end for the Golden Knights?
|Vegas will win the Pacific Division||5|
|Vegas will be the #2 or #3 seed in the Pacific||14|
|Vegas will be a wildcard team||9|
|Vegas will miss the playoffs||3|