The One That Got Away. It’s a story title so familiar to us because it’s one we’ve all employed at one time or another. Whether about a fish, our favorite car, a business opportunity or perhaps that special person, we all can relate because we’ve all been there. For the Vegas Golden Knights, Friday’s Game Three could become that tale of woe and regret.
It’s no secret goals are harder to come by once the post-season begins. Teams ratchet down more in their own zones. Intensity is up. The ultimate goal is now just 16 wins away for anyone who made the tournament. Losing a single game may mean nothing, turn the course of a series or at worst it means the ultimate in devastation and send you home for the summer.
Game Three was a wasted opportunity for the Golden Knights. They led late and lost, but even though that’s the most glaring incident from the game and will make the highlight reels, it wasn’t why Vegas lost.
First of all, the usual platitudes of “we loved our game” and “we did some real good things” were spun out there in the post-game press conference and are wearing thin. I know you have to stay positive and say the right things. I also know Vegas is capable of exploding at any time. But how many more times can you talk about how well you played and lost?
“We had lots of looks that we need to bear down on,” said Mark Stone. “Our power play needs to be better. Starting from the top, we need to be better. (We have been) skunked for the first three games, we’re the reason the power play isn’t working and we need to be better.”
I think that quote covers it really well. Vegas had 17 shots in the first period and didn’t score at a time when Montreal was most vulnerable. They were playing a game without head coach Dominique Ducharme, out due to a positive COVID-19 test. Behind the Montreal bench, that first period was a total test kitchen, seeing how the newly-distributed opportunities were being handled and figuring out important things like communication and employment of strategy. If the Vegas Golden Knights had been able to stick a puck or two in the net, they would have caused things like doubt and uncertainty to creep in. Perhaps even a slight feeling of panic.
Instead, it was Montreal breathing a sigh of relief after the opening 20 minutes when they didn’t play that well at all, yet were still tied in a scoreless game because of Carey Price. They went into the locker room, regrouped, and came back significantly better for the remainder of the contest.
All through the series, Montreal has frustrated the Golden Knights with blocks and forcing them into difficult shot selections and it continued in Game Three. Vegas easily could have had more shots on goal and scoring chances but couldn’t get pucks through lanes or shots on goal.
Another struggling aspect is the power play. Vegas has four power-play goals on 38 chances in the entire playoffs. Even if you don’t want to do the math (10.5%) you can see that’s a bad stat. I’ve been harping on the power play most of the season, calling the team out for a lack of movement away from the puck. I’m not the only one who sees this. Yet it continues to happen, and standing around without the puck is incredibly easy for the other team to defend since you’re always in the same spot. Why does the VGK continue to be so stationary on the powerplay?
“There’s a lot of problems, I don’t think you can pinpoint one,” said a clearly frustrated Reilly Smith about the power play. “Breakouts are bad, not doing good job handling pressure, not releasing the puck very well, not doing a good job crashing the net and picking up rebounds. It’s costing us the series right now.”
Smith rattled those points off in rapid-fire succession. He’s frustrated. Stone is frustrated. Everyone certainly is frustrated at this point. If the players are giving effort and not executing, now it falls to the coach to figure out how to combat that. Yet Vegas has changed little or nothing in its game plan, making only occasional adjustments. Being realistic I know there is a tendency to go with what got you into the final four, but the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. Coaching must now come to the fore and the Vegas Golden Knights must figure out a way to attack and penetrate Montreal’s stout defense. If the Golden Knights can’t figure out a way to get the job done, then they may be headed home for the summer.