Golden Knights Analysis
Golden Grades: Vegas execution was “trash” in loss to Wild
Dylan Coghlan likely didn’t wake up today thinking he’d be in the same company as Joe Hall and Uli Hiemer.
No shame on you not knowing who those names were, unless you’re a pure hockey historian.
But yes, Coghlan’s name will forever be etched with those two, becoming the first defensemen to score their first three career NHL goals in a single game.
Coghlan did, in fact, have a hat trick, but the Vegas Golden Knights couldn’t muster any more offense out of the 17 other skaters, losing 4-3 to the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday.
“I wish we could’ve got the win,” Coghlan said. “That would’ve been the icing on the cake.”
Coghlan became the fourth defenseman at the turn of the century to record a hat trick in a loss, the first since Dougie Hamilton in 2018.
This should be the story; how the Golden Knights rallied behind a rookie defenseman’s coming-out game, how he scored three goals against the mighty Kaapo Kahkonen, and how Vegas finally found the back of the net in Xcel Energy Center.
Instead, what was a 1-1 game heading into the third period turned into a nightmare quickly for Vegas. The Wild scored three times in 6:23, including a unicorn-like power-play goal from Kirill Kaprizov 1:18 into the frame, to essentially put the game out of reach.
“Our execution was trash,” said captain Mark Stone.
On to the grades.
It’s hard to score on hot goalies. The Golden Knights know that all too well, i.e. Thatcher Demko and Anton Khudobin. But combine not making life tough on Kaapo Kahkonen and not generating enough in the tougher areas, the forwards were tip-toe quiet on Wednesday.
Kahkonen won his eighth consecutive start with a 24-save effort, and the forwards didn’t get enough going in the blue paint. Lines 1-3 each registered a positive Corsi, but were hammered in expected goals. The fourth line in particular (2-9 Corsi, 0.42 expected goals against) was horrendous.
William Carrier was a healthy scratch, and it wouldn’t shock me if the rest of the line is shuffled going forward to find a combination that works.
“We didn’t break the puck out well, we didn’t transition the puck well,” Stone said. “We didn’t make proper plays in the o-zone, we just didn’t get any sustained zone time.”
Not even the return of Stone, who sat out Monday’s game, could ignite the offense. The top line of Stone, Chandler Stephenson and Max Pacioretty combined for four shots on goal; three of them from Pacioretty.
It was a combination of Vegas struggling in a barn they don’t play well at, and Vegas running into a hot goalie. But the Golden Knights, for two games, struggled to get in the dirty areas. With a rugged St. Louis team on the horizon, they can’t put another map like this together.
If this was a Dylan Coghlan category, it’d be an A+. Not on this night.
FIrst thing’s first: It was a solid return for Brayden McNabb. The defenseman had two shots in 17:08 and played a sound game. He also delivered bone-crushing hits like this one to ensure the world he is alive and well.
McNabb was paired with Coghlan and, I thought, played his best game of the season. The second-pair role suited him well, and the mistakes were minimal in his first game in over a month.
Now to the bad stuff: The Golden Knights had eight giveaways, with the defense credited with four. Shea Theodore committed an egregious one 19 seconds in that set the stage for Joel Eriksson Ek’s first of two goals. Alec Martinez also had a horrible turnover behind the net that nearly led to another Minnesota goal.
While the Golden Knights’ offense had trouble getting into the blue paint, the Wild made life tough for Marc-Andre Fleury. Minnesota finished the night with 3.64 expected goals in all situations with 2.71 expected at 5-on-5.
Vegas has been without Alex Pietrangelo the past two games, and will be in the foreseeable future. A lot of pressure is about to be heaped on Theodore to play much better than he was on Wednesday.
Fleury did all he could, yet again, to keep Vegas in it. The dam was breaking at some point, and it happened to be the third period.
It’s a classic case of “you almost can’t blame the goalie for everything.” The first goal was due to the Theodore turnover. Nothing Fleury could have done there.
The second goal is weird because it came on the power play, a historically bad Minnesota power play, but it was Kirill Kaprizov doing Kaprizov things with the backhand.
Even the third goal, Eriksson Ek’s second, where he covered the five-hole to protect the puck and it was poked through, could be constituted as not his fault. It’d be understood if it was perceived that way.
The final goal, from Carson Soucy, generated off a fourth-line turnover. Enough said there.
Fleury was pulled midway through the third period for rest purposes. Logan Thompson made his NHL debut and stopped both shots he faced. Thompson is likely to get his first NHL start this weekend, and we’ll see if he can live up to the billing of being the top goalie prospect in Vegas at this moment.
It’s hard to blame the goaltending when Fleury’s been consistent, even in losing efforts. These weren’t soft goals getting by him, and that’s rarely been a case this season. Because of that, this loss isn’t pinned on him.
With Robin Lehner’s return possibly on the horizon, things should get interesting going forward in the crease.
“Still, it’s 1-1 game going in the third period. We still have a chance to win and get points,” said coach Pete DeBoer. “We self-destructed.”