The Vegas Golden Knights knew the Colorado Avalanche would punch back Tuesday.
Vegas acknowledged it. You give Nathan MacKinnon and co. a day to find their legs, the Avalanche would respond.
Indeed they did, and the Golden Knights lost out on at least a point Tuesday in a 3-2 loss to the under-manned Avalanche at T-Mobile Arena.
“I think the guys are disappointed. I think they felt we could’ve won that game tonight,” said coach Pete DeBoer. “They want to get back and go at it again.”
Sunday was a crapshoot. It was a 1-0 win with Marc-Andre Fleury being the deserving star of the show. The Avalanche had two weeks off due to COVID-19 protocol. Their captain, Gabriel Landeskog, was still in protocol.
Last year’s Calder Trophy winner, Cale Makar, did not play Sunday nor Tuesday. Colorado was already down Erik Johnson on its blue line. Top-four defenseman Samuel Girard, too, is in COVID protocol.
That’s a lot of high-profile names to lose. The fact the Golden Knights escaped Sunday with a win was miraculous, knowing Colorado would respond in kind.
That’s exactly what happened. MacKinnon opened the scoring 7:08 into the game off a one-timer from the high slot from Mikko Rantanen.
It was the perfect example showing what happens when the Avalanche gets rolling (pun intended). After Philipp Grubauer makes a kick save from William Karlsson, Colorado steadies the puck and is off to the races.
When MacKinnon gets going downhill, there aren’t many skaters that can match that speed and concentration.
Colorado’s plan from the opening draw was to get the MacKinnon line going. This came a game after Alex Pietrangelo and Alec Martinez did a superb job containing the Hart Trophy finalist.
Thirty seconds into Tuesday’s game, MacKinnon nearly scored on a deflection in front of Fleury. Had it not been for Fleury’s skate, Vegas could’ve been down more than one.
“I thought in the first period, we got caught early standing still and took some penalties,” said Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer. “But I thought in the second and third, we negated that speed with puck possession in the offensive zone and forechecking.”
The Golden Knights were fortunate to escape the first period unscathed and down only one. Vegas committed four penalties in the first period (three minor infractions) to put Colorado in prime power-play territory.
But Vegas killed all three of those penalties to keep it 1-0 at the end of the first.
“We got behind the 8-ball,” said captain Mark Stone. “We killed six minutes of penalties in the first period. You take a lot of guys out of the game with that. Overall, I don’t think we got outskated.”
One thing the Golden Knights did well Tuesday was take away the center ice in their zone. Colorado had only six high-danger chances, and outside its second and third goals, Colorado didn’t have much to work with.
Vegas, meanwhile, had 15 high-danger opportunities with 2.65 expected goals. Given their slow start in the first period, that would indicate the Golden Knights should’ve won this game.
Much like it has been the case in Vegas’ history, it takes a bounce or two to sway the momentum away. Case in point: Max Pacioretty scores his game-tying power-play goal, only for Brandon Saad to score 1:03 later and give Colorado the lead right back.
Then, the Golden Knights tie it in the third by way of the Misfit Line’s relentless pressure in the crease. Jonathan Marchessault ties it and, if anything, a point is on the horizon.
Especially given that’s only the third 5-on-5 goal scored in the last week, Vegas would’ve thanked its lucky stars to get a point.
But, once again, one bounce changes things. Nazem Kadri corrals the rebound with Fleury on his seat, and he roofs it over Fleury with 40 seconds left.
Instead of a potential three-point swing in the West Division, the Golden Knights settle for a home split with its most competitive foe in the West Division.
“I really liked our effort tonight. I liked the fact the second and third periods were our best periods,” DeBoer said. “It’s tough to lose a game like that, but we did a lot of really good things and I was proud of the effort.”
The scene now shifts to Lake Tahoe for Saturday’s outdoor get-together, and then once more Monda at Ball Arena in Denver.
The Golden Knights acknowledged two things Tuesday night; that Colorado is the quickest team it’s played, and the best team it’s played to this point.
And that was without Colorado’s big names.
If the Golden Knights are hoping to make a statement, this weekend is the time.
“As much as you want to put on a show because you know so many people are watching, we have a lot to prove after this game,” Pacioretty said. “We know everyone’s watching this one, and there’s no excuse. We should be well rested.”
Danny Webster covers the Vegas Golden Knights for Vegas Hockey Now. Follow him on Twitter @DannyWebster21.