If there’s a team that’s faced adversity and overcome it constantly in the last four years, it’s the Vegas Golden Knights.
Even before blades hit the ice the team had to fight for its own name. They had to fight for respect on the ice, and it seemed that even after an incredible inaugural season that finished with a Stanley Cup Final appearance there were still those who chalked it up to luck. There was a stunning Game Seven loss to the San Jose Sharks after a phantom high-sticking major was whistled against the team resulting in utter collapse. And even this off-season trade winds swirled around the beloved face of the franchise Marc-Andre Fleury as the team prepared for a shortened, COVID-controlled season with its own challenges.
Yes, the Vegas Golden Knights have been in the thick of the plot from birth, but this year’s team could buck the trend of falling just short for many reasons. Depth scoring is one of them.
It’s funny how the focus goes immediately to the superstars of teams in every sport. Hockey is no exception. We know the name Connor McDavid or Alex Ovechkin immediately. For the Golden Knights, there are several that immediately bring recognition around the league. Fleury, Alex Pietrangelo, Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty are known commodities.
Yet for the Golden Knights or any other team that will find success in the playoffs, it will take contributions from every level. Superstars, stars, established players, rookies and even career journeymen all have a role to play. And perhaps the best – certainly the most entertaining – aspect of it all is that there are no class restrictions on who may step up and play the hero. That’s how we came to know names like John Druce, Joel Ward, and Johan Hedberg.
Just four games in we’ve already seen extreme highs and lows for the Golden Knights. It would be nice to see them level it out a bit, not visiting the poles of great and terrible as much as existing between good and bad. At least two of the nine periods can be classified as terrible, including the opening frame of Thursday’s Game Three. Reilly Smith said the Golden Knights couldn’t have “played any worse” in that period.
Then there was a swing to the polar opposite immediately after: a second period where the entire team was engaged and playing hard. Vegas out-shot Minnesota 22-5 and scored three goals in the period to take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
In this case, the rally began courtesy of the captain Mark Stone’s first goal of the playoffs. Stone had been relatively quiet the first two games, posting only an assist without the company of usual linemate and VGK regular-season leading goal scorer Max Pacioretty. But in the second period, Stone came through, getting Vegas on the board for the first time in the game. Fittingly, he would cap the scoring into an empty net in a 5-2 final and an incredibly important road win to get back in front of the series.
Smith, William Karlsson and Patrick Brown would also contribute their first goals of the playoffs, spreading the scoring around a bit more as slowly but surely the Golden Knights mount up one by one. In Game Two it was Alex Tuch’s two goals along with Jonathan Marchessault’s single to get them on the scoresheet for the first time in the series.
Looking at Saturday night’s Game Four, it was Nicolas Roy’s turn to score twice and announce his presence in the series. His two goals were bolstered by goals from Stone and Tuch, while Marc-Andre Fleury was once again his ho-hum superstar self making 35 saves for the shutout.
Roy’s linemates Keegan Kolesar (0-2-2, +2) and Mattias Janmark (0-1-1, +2) also had solid games as the third line really made a major impact in the game.
“I really like that line, I thought we needed that line to have a big game for us and… they did,” said Pete DeBoer. “Kolesar, Janmark and Roy were all real good tonight in all areas. Janmark had some big blocks, Kolesar makes a great play on the first goal, Roy got the two (goals). You need depth scoring in the playoffs and I thought those guys had been spinning (their) tires for a couple of games. They were great.”
Despite being blanked in Game One, the Vegas Golden Knights has seven different players on the scoresheet in the series. The Minnesota Wild has three, and only four goals.
Don’t forget, the most impressive part of this stretch is that the Golden Knights are doing it without Max Pacioretty in the lineup. During the regular season, he led the team in goals with 24 and was second with 51 points. While he’s still considered day-to-day, having a 3-1 lead in the series also gives Pete DeBoer the luxury of not rushing him back into the lineup. Perhaps if the VGK were down 3-1 he’d play Game Five. But at this point, perhaps you err far more on the side of caution and let him continue to rest and rehabilitate.
Now, the Golden Knights head home with a chance to wrap up the series on Monday night at T-Mobile Arena, where capacity has been upped once again heading into Game Five. Game time is slated for 7:30 pm PT.