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Golden Knights Analysis

VGK Grades: ‘That Can’t Happen,’ Golden Knights Lack Fight, Goaltending

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Vegas Golden Knights, Leon Draisaitl celebrates for Edmonton Oilers, Stanley Cup Playoffs

LAS VEGAS — The Vegas Golden Knights suffered a first-round TKO Saturday at T-Mobile Arena. Before three minutes ticked off the clock, the Edmonton Oilers scored a power-play goal. By seven minutes into the game, another power-play goal made it 2-0. Edmonton scored four times in the first 16 minutes and never let the Golden Knights back into the game, cruising to a 5-1 win.

The “message sending” began in the second period, though Edmonton probably got the better of that, too, as Evander Kane pounded a defenseless Keegan Kolesar.

Kane got four minutes for roughing and a 10-minute misconduct.

“It won’t be forgotten,” said Golden Knights defenseman Brayden McNabb.

That should be the only thing the Golden Knights remember. The rest of the 60-minute game could be appropriately discarded with a loud flush.

The difference between Game 1 and Game 2 was a quick pushback. In Game 1, the Golden Knights surrendered an early power-play goal, but Ivan Barbashev scored a minute later to reset the game. Saturday was different as the Golden Knights took another penalty … and another penalty until they were out of the game.

Vegas Special Teams: F

It seems not an act of Congress or God could stop the Oilers’ power play. The Oilers’ power play percentage dipped Saturday because they were “only” 3-for-6.

“I didn’t think it was too bad, but once you get to 3-0, you’re starting to chase it,” winger Mark Stone said. “They scored two on the power play in Game 1, three tonight. We’re doing a lot of good things on the kill, but they’re dynamic, so you’ve got to find a way to stay out of the box. The calls just aren’t going our way.”

Coaching wrinkle: The Golden Knights PK sagged in the zone, leaving only one forward to cover the points. The VGK elected to pack the slot with three defenders below the dots to prevent scoring chances or rebounds. However, Edmonton merely used the wide-open perimeter to attack from different angles. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl still scored power-play goals tight to the goal line but from the side instead of in front.

The speed, precision, and simplicity of the Oilers’ power play are striking. They don’t waste time with the puck at the top of the zone, they don’t get flatfooted, they’re always moving, and they’re always finding pressure points to draw defenders, then immediately slipping the puck to the open player.

Worse, Connor McDavid scored a shortie late in the first period.

Unlike Game 1, there wasn’t much of a 5v5 chess match between the coaches. The Golden Knights were in the quicksand after allowing the power play goals. Gone was the nifty triangulation of McDavid. The game devolved throughout the second period.

Goaltending: D

Adin Hill started the third period for the Golden Knights, and there seems to be a solid chance he will start Game 3. Laurent Brossoit has been mediocre in the series. The rebounds have been scattershot, and McDavid’s second goal was from a terrible angle, with Brossoit staring at the shooter.

“The goalie needs to make that save, and he will,” Cassidy said.

Perhaps the “backbreaker” came early in the first period. Evan Bouchard notched a power-play goal on a blast from the point. It wasn’t deflected. Despite the traffic near the crease, the shot was stoppable. Saves or non-saves like that make the difference.

The vaunted Edmonton attack has Brossoit swimming in the crease and backing deep. That’s a bad combo against a team with enough sharpshooters.

Golden Knights Top-Six: D

In his postgame press conference, coach Bruce Cassidy subtly noted that his top offensive performers needed to do more.

According to NaturalStatTrick.com, the Eichel line had only one high-danger scoring chance and two total scoring chances. Ouch.

William Karlsson’s line was outchanced 5-2 and also had only one high-danger scoring chance.

Cassidy almost poked his top players but pulled up just before veering into specific criticism.

“We weren’t hard enough on the puck. Guys we rely on offensively, they need to understand that,” Cassidy said. “And whoever –guys on the fourth line — whatever — you go through any line, we didn’t have the puck enough.”

Attitude/Team Effort: F

“(That) was the most disappointing part of the game for me as a head coach. You’re going to have nights when you’re going to get out-executed, certainly by (the Oilers),” coach Bruce Cassidy said. They were more competitive. But we got sort of out “teammated,” for lack of a better term. This should never happen with the Vegas Golden Knights.

“We talked about that. Going forward, that’s hopefully that’s the thing to correct. You’re not going to win if you’re not playing as a team.”

One wonders if the Edmonton power play becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy etched within the marble of the Golden Knights’ collective psyche. It seems unstoppable. An ever-moving juggernaut, a horror movie villain, or a Facebook fight over politics. It just keeps coming with no relief or end to the exasperation. How long can the Golden Knights mentally ignore their inability to prevent power play goals before they buckle and that problem compounds itself elsewhere?

“They let off the gas there in the third period. We can’t take a ton from that,” Stone said.

A few good PKs when the game matters are essential. It seems the Vegas Golden Knights’ mental status might be on the line. It’s one matter to lose a playoff game. It’s another to be exposed repeatedly in one facet of the game.

Those things change a series, they warp teams, and ultimately, those things decide a series.

“They¬†were a lot better than us. They’re ready to play. We weren’t,” Cassidy said.

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