Year 2, Game 4: Golden Knights fail to avenge Stanley Cup loss, fall 5-2 to Capitals

The rematch against the Stanley Cup champions did not go Vegas’ way, but this may have been one of the better games they’ve played this season.

It’s not like they played poorly. At least not as poorly as the games against the Philadelphia Flyers and the Buffalo Sabres. But for the Golden Knights, another loss is another loss. Especially on the wrong side of a 5-2 game, when the defense could have been much better. The Knights are now 1-3-0 on the season, and it doesn’t appear that progress is being made as quickly as one would hope.

The power play is still a problem, although they had their best opportunity of the season in this game. The third pairing remains an issue, though Nick Holden made his best play of the year on Vegas’ second goal. The first line is still missing something, but Reilly Smith got his first point of the year. These issues are being slowly addressed, but they remain issues.

However, there are reasons for optimism. This may have been the Golden Knights’ best game of the season, and that includes their win against the Minnesota Wild. The top six looked a lot better, and when Gerard Gallant finally threw out a power play consisting of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, Smith, Shea Theodore and Max Pacioretty, it looked great.

Let’s take a look at each of the (important) goals.

Alex Ovechkin gets the setup from Evgeny Kuznetsov, with Patches and Colin Miller back defensively. Neither of them are bad in their own zone, so it’s inexcusable that this play is allowed to happen. They’re both in the passing lane between two of Washington’s elite forwards, and one of them should have made the stop. Just one of many defensive mistakes.

Then, a surprise goal from perhaps the most unlikely source:

A brilliant wrap-around play by the Golden Knight with the freshest legs cuts the lead in half. The Knights were good at answering when Washington scored goals, but if they could have done that more, that would have been real nice.

The third defensive pairing gets caught puck watching (both defenseman somehow watching the same man) and Nicklas Backstrom sets up shop on the doorstep and gets an easy goal.

Okay, time for a quick rant.

Shea Theodore is perhaps Vegas’ best defensive presence to this point in the season. Maybe it’s time for him to get some more minutes on the penalty kill with somebody that isn’t Colin Miller or Deryk Engelland (like Brayden McNabb, for example). If Theodore is going to be a first-pairing defenseman, he needs to get opportunity everywhere. This team is 1-3-0. What better learning opportunity exists? Rant over.

Midway through the third period, the first line finally gets a goal from somebody not named Marchessault.

When Smith was doing damage against the Capitals in the Stanley Cup Final, when he put up a team-best six points in five games, he was doing so by scoring from high-danger areas. Getting back on track for the first line means goals exactly like this one.

Finally, the game-ending goal:

Again, it’s a forward who needs to be playing better defense. Ryan Carpenter, who has been good in his own zone, loses Ovechkin completely. Theodore completely takes away Brett Connolly and Engelland could have done a better job of taking away the passing lane, but this goal mostly lies on the shoulders of Carpenter.

On the brighter side, the Golden Knights dominated Corsi at 5-on-5 and had a good chunk of their shots come from high-danger areas. Karlsson addressed his issues and got to the high-danger spots himself. The Knights got shots from key locations, and it resulted in goals.

Still, 1-3-0 is not a good record, and while things are looking up, it’s not like they could be looking down at this point. Things are getting better, but if only they were getting better faster, there’d be more opportunity for hope.