Despite the goaltending heroics of Marc-Andre Fleury, the Vegas Golden Knights are down 1-0 in the best-of-seven series to the Minnesota Wild after a 1-0 overtime loss on Sunday.
This is a tough one. For so many reasons the loss sets off alarms that reach all the way back to the team’s first playoff appearance. But the most important takeaway is this: Vegas no longer has home ice advantage in the series after just one game.
There are plenty of excuses to lean on, not the least of which is the absence of leading goal scorer Max Pacioretty from the VGK lineup. But the chances were there. So was Cam Talbot. So was Marc-Andre Fleury, who was spectacular and deserved a much better fate.
This save was spectacular. The defense was not. Stone waves at Kirill Kaprizov as he weaves through the slot while both Brayden McNabb and Shea Theodore are too far forward to defend his slash to the net.
So it went on Sunday. Several big-time chances were surrendered by the defense to the Wild because of poor decisions made by the VGK. It’s almost as if the Golden Knights were in their own heads about having trouble scoring. Without Fleury’s spectacular saves this one would have been over much sooner than it was.
The bottom line is that this Vegas team simply wasn’t good enough and if they play like this, the Wild will win this series.
Goaltending – A+
Seriously, there’s no higher grade for Marc-Andre Fleury. He made a season’s worth of incredible stops all in one game. The OT winner was a bad deflection off his own player. At risk of sounding like a broken record, he deserved a better fate because he kept the VGK from being beaten before OT. Unfortunately there’s no points awarded for an overtime loss in the playoffs.
Defense – D
Not good. Not good at all. Giveaways. Mistakes. Bad gap control. Lack of awareness. It all adds to leaving your goalie out to dry to face odd-man rushes and top quality scoring chances. One of Ryan Hartman’s best chances came when Brayden McNabb was chasing a big hit in the neutral zone (beyond the red line!) while leaving Hartman to race in alone on Fleury. The OT winner was a terrible giveaway from Pietrangelo. Several times Kaprizov and company were able to zig and zag through the slot with abandon. Look at that video above and you can see exactly how much time and space the Wild were given. That has to change immediately.
Forwards – C
The grade only cracks the D level because of the first period in which they had 19 shots on goal. They simply couldn’t bury the chances when they were there and that is becoming an all-too-familiar song in the playoffs.
Special Teams – C
The power play was terrible. They failed to generate movement off the puck and looked static. It made the Wild penalty kill look amazing with tons of blocked shots and stick in the lane, but when the shooting and passing lanes don’t change, it’s easy to defend. To me it was more what Vegas wasn’t doing as opposed to anything the Wild did. The penalty kill, led by Marc-Andre Fleury, did it’s job.
- When I talked about the keys to the series and talked about Fleury being the third key, it was subtitled run support. Fleury received zero run support and gave the Golden Knights his best performance of the year. Once again, Fleury shows why he’s the best possible option in net. Hopefully DeBoer abandons the rotation in the playoffs.
- Game One was just a massive defensive brain fart for the Golden Knights. The coverage was full of holes and the Wild took advantage. Only Marc-Andre Fleury kept it close. If he’s not superhuman, this game is easily 4-0 or 5-0 instead of 1-0 in overtime. The Wild deserved to win this game and they did.
- Anyone who has been listening, watching or reading my stuff this season knows I’ve been high on the Minnesota Wild. They showed why on Sunday, generating opportunities out of chaos and finding ways to generate pressure when it works for them. Yes, they can be pushed back defensively and surrender scoring chances, but if you don’t bury those it really doesn’t matter.
- The power play has to change. Once again there’s a lot of standing around waiting for the puck going on. That won’t beat any NHL penalty kill. The Wild were able to maintain position while the VGK tried to work the puck around up top and had two guys planted – immobile – in the slot and in front of the goalie.
- Now it all falls on Pete DeBoer. He’s seen the Wild enough this season. Now he needs to help his team make adjustments first of all to defend better, and second to generate more chances on a consistent basis. Whether on breakouts, zone entries or puck retrievals there needs to be a consistency the team has lacked down the stretch as it fell from first place in the Honda West Division.
- Game Two will be Tuesday night at 7 pm PT on NBCSN.