Peter DeBoer tried to make the math simple. For the Vegas Golden Knights to win hockey games, they need to be able to score three goals a game.
The challenge is trying to get to that magic number.
With Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone, the team’s top two scorers, out indefinitely, and Alec Martinez possibly gone as well, it means others have to step up and deliver offensively. Wednesday, the only ones who did so were William Karlsson, Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault in the Knights’ 3-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues at T-Mobile Arena. Karlsson scored off a 2-on-1 with Smith in the first period and Marchessault rang one off the elbow where the post and crossbar intersect shortly after. If Marchessault’s shot goes in and Vegas goes up 2-0, perhaps it’s a different story.
Instead, the Knights registered one measly goal. They had two in last week’s loss to the Kings and in their lone win, they scored four times on opening night Oct. 12 against the Seattle Kraken, which were playing their first-ever game. And even then, Vegas was fortunate as the game-winner went off Chandler Stephenson’s right skate.
“This is a league where it’s the first team to three that usually wins,” DeBoer said Wednesday after his team fell to 1-2 on the young season. “We’ve got to find three goals a night someway, somehow.
“I know Karly’s line will chip one in. The question is where are we going to get the other two? From another line? One’s got to come on the power play. You’ve got to find a way. So that’s going to be the issue and we have to rise to the occasion and find three.”
The return of Nic Roy, William Carrier and Brett Howden to the lineup did not yield the desired results offensively despite the trio combining for eight shots on goal. Evgenii Dadonov had just two shots playing with Stephenson and Roy. Nolan Patrick, who skated with Keegan Kolesar and Peyton Krebs, failed to register a shot on goal. The Knights were also beat in the faceoff circle, winning just 42% of the draws (23 of 55).
There are also defensive issues that need to be addressed.
“You can’t win in this league giving up 40 shots a night,” he said after Robin Lehner faced 37 shots. “We were a little loose with our coverage but we cleaned that up. Turnovers were an issue. We turned some pucks over that came back to bite us.”
Most notably, Alex Pietrangelo, the former Blues captain, had a turnover that led to a 3-on-0 culminating with Vladimir Tarasenko beating Lehner to break a 1-1 tie and put St. Louis ahead 2-1 with 10:11 remaining in the game.
“We know we have to play better,” DeBoer said after his team committed 18 turnovers to the Blues’ five. “Our core group has done it before. We’ll get back to it.”
Karlsson said everyone’s got to remember their defensive responsibilities.
“We need to be tighter, especially in the slot,” he said. “The first guy’s got to stop their guy.”
Smith said one issue is symptomatic of the other.
“I think it’s all about having attention to detail and working hard,” he said. “We gave up 10 Grade A chances in the first period. We shouldn’t give up that many in the entire game. When we’re defending and creating turnovers, it leads to more offense.”
Lehner, who was spectacular in goal, said it’s a matter of adjusting.
“We’ve got some thins to clean up,” he said. “I don’t know how many breakaways they had. But we just need to tighten up some things.”
Perhaps the pressure to help bolster the attack is leading the defensemen to sometimes ignore their responsibilities in their own end and resulting in odd-man rushes for the opposition. Giving up a 3-on-0 in your defensive zone is inexcusable. But when you turn the puck over, bad things tend to happen.
“We need a better mindset,” Smith said. “We have to treat these games like the playoffs and play with that kind of intensity.”