A Sunday afternoon puck drop is not the norm for the Vegas Golden Knights, and it looked like they forgot their afternoon coffee.
The Golden Knights finally woke up in the third period and put 24 shots on goal, and even scored a goal late, but Cal Petersen made 41 saves and Vegas lost 3-1 to the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center.
“Too little, too late,” said coach Pete DeBoer. “I’ve talked since the beginning of the year about beating teams twice, and how good it is, especially in their building. They came out with a lot of desperation.”
Vegas’ five-game winning streak ended and it was the Knights’ first loss against the Kings this season (3-1-0).
The Golden Knights struggled mightily to create anything offensively through 40 minutes. Los Angeles did a good job clogging the neutral zone and keeping Vegas to the outside.
Los Angeles’ offense wasn’t all-world, either, but it did one thing that Vegas couldn’t — crash the net and get in the paint. No example was greater than the Kings’ first goal from Sean Walker at 5:58 of the second period.
“I think the whole second period was their momentum,” said coach Pete DeBoer. “They came out in the second period and were just the hungrier team.”
It wasn’t just the fact the Kings did a much better job in the dirty areas, but how they kept the puck moving in the Vegas zone. The Misfit Line — Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Smith — was on the ice for 2:04 of that shift before the goal, while 1:04 of that was spent in their zone.
DeBoer challenged for goalie interference on Marc-Andre Fleury, likely hoping for some sliver of hope that spending a minute in their zone wasn’t for nothing. The goal stood, and the Kings got a power play out of it.
Less than a minute later, the Kings’ power play capitalized on the delay of game minor. The Golden Knights’ penalty kill, ranked No. 4 in the league, looked deflated. Los Angeles’ puck movement was near perfection, with Alex Iafallo finding Dustin Brown all alone in front to make it 2-0.
The stint was the only blemish on Fleury’s otherwise great day. He made 28 saves after getting the night off Friday for the returning Robin Lehner.
“The challenge didn’t help,” DeBoer said. “We don’t get a good feed at the bench level, so we were relying on cameras and people. I think they felt there was contact with Fleury. When I got in at the end of the period and got a chance to look at some better views, I thought it was probably a marginal call and the refs probably got it right.”
Even despite two power plays late in the second period, the Golden Knights didn’t have the jump. They combined for three shots on the man advantage; one of them was Smith fanning on a wide-open net.
The Golden Knights knew they were going to get pushback from the Kings after winning 4-2 on Friday. After two net-front deflection goals from Vegas on Friday, Los Angeles did a much better job taking away the middle of the ice and making life easier on its goaltender.
A net-front presence would’ve helped in the 5-on-3 the Golden Knights had in the third period. Vegas had 1:31 of power play time, and four attempts came from Shea Theodore. Normally, that would be good news.
But when all of Theodore’s attempts come from the right circle with one on target, two going wide and one was blocked, it’s a rough night. There was no presence in the blue paint; nothing like what the Kings did.
“We’ve tried everything,” said captain Mark Stone. “We’ve done different units, we’ve done everything. We’re just not executing.”
The Golden Knights did not have leading goal scorer Max Pacioretty due to a lower-body injury. The team announced before the game he is day-to-day and his status for Monday’s game against the Blues is unknown.
Pacioretty, in all likelihood, would’ve made a difference in the most crucial part of the game, but when the puck only moves to one direction, even Pacioretty from his office would be too predictable.
Tomas Nosek cut it to 2-1 with 3:27 by way of a fortuitous bounce off Petersen. The Golden Knights have benefitted in recent weeks by getting that goal to spark a comeback. They appeared on their way to doing that again.
That was, until Jeff Carter scoring on a breakaway 55 seconds later put the game away.
“I don’t even think in the third period we got enough good shots on net,” Smith said. “They did a good job keeping us outside, and their goalie played big.”
It’s hard to put stock into this one game given what lies ahead. Sure, the Golden Knights wanted to win against a non-playoff team before their back-to-back at home against a team they’ll likely see in the playoffs.
“This is a lot of games this week,” said DeBoer about playing four games in the next seven days. “The tough part is going to be moving into tomorrow energy-wise. St. Louis is sitting there waiting for us.”