After the curtain fell on a storybook season for the Vegas Golden Knights, optimism abounded within the community. There were hugs, tears, fist bumps and high-fives. Still, many are left wondering what really went wrong in the Stanley Cup Final and how did the previously-unstoppable Golden Knights hit the wall against a seemingly-weaker Washington Capitals team.
While there is enough blame to go around, one major factor for the Golden Knights was their inability to protect the puck, especially around their own goal. Passes just weren’t as crisp, everything just felt “off,” and even the “puck luck” seemed to change after the Knights pulled off the dramatic 6-4 series-opening win.
Turning the puck over in your own defensive zone against some of the best offensive players in hockey is a recipe for disaster. Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant was forced to make major lineup adjustments for Game 5, which seemed to work until the unforced turnover bug crept back in during the game’s most crucial moments, the worst being the game-deciding mistake by Luca Sbisa with just 7:37 remaining in the game.
Frequent Bone-headed Penalties Killed Momentum
Dumb penalties, especially immediately after a Knights’ goal, led to Capitals star Alex Ovechkin — who was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs MVP — slapping one in on the ensuing Power Play. Against one of the best, if not THE best, power play teams in the NHL, being down a man is a disaster and Ovechkin made them pay with this goal midway through the second period.
The Golden Knights defensive struggles ran wild all series, giving up at least three goals in each game after not giving up more than three goals in six of their previous seven games heading into the Stanley Cup Final. The Capitals, on the other hand, allowed three goals in just two of their final seven games, losing only one of those in the Stanley Cup Final opener.
Gallant was at such a loss midway through the series he benched David Perron and, for Game 5, brought back Perron and William Carrier while putting veteran forwards Ryan Reaves and Ryan Carpenter back on on the shelf. Perron scored a goal in his return but it wasn’t enough.
Of course, you can’t blame the defense for the ridiculously athletic goal scored by Devante Smith-Pelly.
Some of it had to do with a little bit of bad luck, but some of it had to do with the defense being out of position and sloppy. The physical play of the Capitals teamed with the pressure of being on the world’s biggest stage was simply too much for the Golden Misfits. To be so close and not walk away with The Cup is a jagged pill to swallow.
Roster Moves Key To Offseason Progress
With the offseason beginning, there are plenty of roster moves needing to be made with contracts up. Perron, team leaders Marc-Andre Fleury and James Neal, hometown hero Deryk Engelland as well as Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Nate Schmidt are all unrestricted free agents now while “Wild Bill” Karlsson is a restricted free agent due far more than his current $1 million salary.
Karlsson is due a large payout after breaking out in 2018. The 25-year-old center scored a combined 50 goals in the regular season and playoffs with an additional 43 assists for phenomenal 93 total points. “Wild Bill” is a fan favorite who came out of nowhere this season to become the league’s most improved player.
The NHL Awards, which are being held at the Hard Rock Hotel on June 20th, will surely feature a ton of Golden Knights receiving accolades. One has to think Gallant and McPhee will garner some hardware as perhaps Karlsson. Hollow awards, to some, but a tremendous symbol of the terrific job the entire franchise did in building this record-setting team.
Whatever moves are on the horizon for general manager George McPhee and his crew of roster wizard, here’s hoping one thing doesn’t change: The greatest pregame in all of sports.