Hockey is finally back, Vegas, but it wasn’t the start to the second half of the season the Vegas Golden Knights wanted. After coming off an eight-day break, the Golden Knights lost to the Carolina Hurricanes, 5-2, and the Florida Panthers, 3-1, notching their fourth straight loss and tied their longest losing streak in franchise history.
The Knights sit three points behind second place San Jose and nine behind the Pacific-leading Calgary Flames. This is a slightly worrisome sign for the second half of the season, and ultimately the run for the Stanley Cup. In this streak, Golden Knights have a problem with taking their foot off the gas, which hopefully is not a metaphor for the second half of the season.
In three of these last four losses, the Knights have scored first in the opening period of each game only to lose the lead and the game. Two games can be seen as a coincidence but three in a row seems to be a pattern. The Knights can’t get too comfortable when they take a lead and keep their energy high to see a win through.
VGK have lost 3 straight and 5 of 7
VGK are now 1-10-0 as underdogs
VGK have now lost 10 games when scoring 1st (17-10-3)
VGK are now -7 in the 2nd period
— SinBin.vegas (@SinBinVegas) February 2, 2019
In Florida, the Knights were scored on in the first 12 seconds of the game — the fastest goal against in team history. Max Pacioretty had Vegas’s only goal, tying the game in the first. Despite a back and forth game through the second and the third, a turnover in Vegas’s offensive zone led to Florida’s Mike Hoffman capitalizing on a one-on-one with Fleury.
The losses since the All-Star break tells us a lot about what we can expect from the Knights in the second half of their season.
First, we shouldn’t expect to see as much of Flower as we have in the first part of the season. Max Lagace, who was recalled from the Chicago Wolves on January 31, got the start against Carolina.
Lagace wasn’t the absolute reason why the Knights dropped the game, but the goals against came at crucial times. Carolina’s first goal tied the game in the first period, where Lagace was caught out of position, and complained of goaltender interference — which was later denied by the officials and put Carolina on the board. Lagace made a poke check early in the second period which led to a rebound goal from Brett Pesce, giving them the 2-1 lead and effectively stopping the Knight’s momentum. Still, the Knights need someone to man the net every once in a while.
Fleury started in net against Florida and kept the Knights in the game with some spectacular saves — as we have come to expect from Fleury. Toward the end of the first, Fleury blocked a penalty shot to keep the game tied. Despite his best effort, he couldn’t stop Hoffman’s breakaway and game-winning goal. Fleury is on track to start 70 games this season, and it has been pointed out that goalies almost never start that many games and go on to win the cup. The talented goaltender played the entirety of last year’s miraculous Stanley Cup run, has started 45 games this season and participated in the All-Star skills competition and game.
“Flower” has been seen starting back-to-back before, but clearly Gallant has realized the man could use a break. Despite this recent loss streak, the Golden Knights are in a solid playoff position, and Fleury should start to get the rest he deserves in preparation to get to the Stanley Cup finals once more.
Reilly Smith made his highly anticipated return after being taken off IR on Friday against Carolina. We can expect to see more players come off IR as the second half of the season winds down and the Knights enter playoffs. Currently, four players sit on IR — Erik Haula, Malcolm Subban, Will Carrier and Nick Holden — but most are expected to return to the lineup before playoffs, giving the Knights a more stable (and hopefully effective) lineup.
This also leaves the conundrum of the roster — what is GMGM going to do when three or four guys are healthy and there are more players than the 23 spots available? Who stays and who goes?
The lines in the last two games give us an insight into how this could play out. The top six were once again in tact in Carolina, leaving fan-favorite Brandon Pirri to move to the third line centered by Cody Eakin. Eakin was a force to be reckoned with when filling in for Paul Stastny on the second line early in the season after Stastny was sidelined with an injury for two months.
Eakin and Pirri, combined with Valentin Zykov couldn’t breathe life into a mostly sleepy third line. They had some aggressive chances on net, but ultimately the line was still finding their chemistry when Gallant decided to mix things up during the third periods and put Zykov on the first line and Smith on the third.
This newly formed third line made another appearance against Florida, but still couldn’t find the back of the net. Zykov’s second and third appearance with the Golden Knights were strong in opportunities, but it wasn’t enough to clinch them the games.
In his 2nd game as a Golden Knight, Valentin Zykov led the team with a 61.9% Corsi while on the ice.
When he was on the ice scoring chances were 10-2 in favor of VGK. When he was off the ice Carolina had a 22-10 advantage.
Good showing for him.
— Jesse Granger (@JesseGranger_) February 2, 2019
Lindberg and Carpenter were scratched from the last two games, but could make an appearance if Gallant wasn’t happy with the new third line. However, if they keep playing together and eventually find chemistry, it could be bad news for the two third-line wingers who have been getting consistent starts.
Bischoff, Carpenter and Lindberg are still on the ice with Fleury. Looks like they'll be the scratches. pic.twitter.com/PYpAZNftcZ
— David Schoen 📰🗞🏒 (@DavidSchoenLVRJ) February 1, 2019
Vegas’s power play has been anything but extraordinary, but they managed to convert on one of their two opportunities in Carolina, giving them their only lead of the game. Pirri had a couple good chances on the second power play of the game, but couldn’t convert. The Knights failed to score on their only power play in Florida.
On the other hand, Vegas’s penalty kill remained strong and they killed off both of Carolina’s chances Friday and Florida’s chance Saturday. However, the penalties lowered the team’s energy on the ice, and the team’s penalties ended up hurting them, if not on the scoreboard.
Overall, the Vegas Golden Knights are poised to make another run for the cup, and after a long period of rest, they will hopefully waking up from their vacation mode against the NHL-leading Tampa Bay Lightning Tuesday. However, the city of Las Vegas has also been resting to fuel up and cheer on this team until the end, and they’re hungry for a win.