You can feel the anger. You can see the frustration. You can understand the struggle in searching for answers.
For the Golden Knights, home is not a happy place right now. And all the jumping up and down from the fans, all the imploring from the in-game hosts to get loud, all the music everyone has grown accustomed to isn’t going to snap this team out of its current funk in T-Mobile Arena.
This is on the players, plain and simple.
The Knights have lost four in a row at home. They have begun the eight-games-in-nine stretch at T-Mobile with two losses. The notion of taking the Pacific Division title grows dimmer with each defeat as San Jose has taken control of the top spot.
And it’s not any one thing that has been the cause, though if you are willing to look at it objectively, you’ll see the team hasn’t played a full 60 minutes in any of the recent home losses.
Certainly not Tuesday in falling 5-2 vs Arizona.
Coach Gerard Gallant may not be a math wizard, but he knows percentages. And here’s his take from what was a very brief, angry and contentious postgame news conference Tuesday:
It was 2-2 game and all of a sudden, we try and get cute and start making drop passes through the slot and turn over and then they go the other way on odd man rushes so you know, we get 40-something shots.
I didn’t like the way we played. I thought we played about 10 minutes of real good hockey tonight. There was no passion in our game. There was no aggressive forecheck in our game. We played a soft game, and in my opinion, we gave them three goals from our mistakes.
Not from what they deserved. And they played well, you know I give them credit but when you are going to give them three goals like that you are not going to win many games. -Gallant
So it begs several questions. Why play cutesy with the puck? Why not be more direct? Why not come out with some jump? Was it a lack of respect for the Coyotes, who have played the role of doormat to the Knights in the past? Was it trying to play to the crowd?
I’m not sure the players have the answers. But it’s up to them to fix it.
We didn’t battle hard enough. We were in a good spot going into the third, with 2-2. We just didn’t battle, we weren’t good enough.
Definitely no reason for that group to be losing a game like that. We have the work ethic, all the skills that we need to be successful and we just don’t make it happen. We need to be willing to want it more than the other ones. -Jonathan Marchessault
Nate Schmidt, who also tends to tell it like it is, said there are multiple issues plaguing the Knights right now.
(It’s) more of the same. Not showing up at home, not finishing games, just a lot of things from our game that are just not characteristic of our group.
Right now, it’s tough. It’s tough when you have good parts of the game, you know, you push back to tie the game and just think that you’re going to be easy for the third period. I mean they’re pushing too.
It’s this time of year. It’s hard to win this time of year. And I know we just don’t have it for the whole game and that’s just not going to be enough to win. -Schmidt
The Knights outshot Arizona 43-26. Yes, Darcy Kuemper played big in the ‘Yotes net and that was a factor. So were the penalties taken by Brayden McNabb late in the second period and Paul Stastny early in the third period which short-circuited the momentum after the Knights had battled back from a 2-0 deficit to tie it 2-2.
And poor Reilly Smith. The guy gets hooked from behind after making a strong move to get into the clear, gets awarded a penalty shot, makes a great deke on Kuemper to give himself plenty of net to shoot at, only to have his backhander hit the right post.
They were all contributing factors to Tuesday’s loss. And when things are going bad for a team, this is what you get. Hit posts. Missed nets. Bad decisions. Penalties in the offensive zone. And that leads to frustration from the players and their coach. So I’m not surprised that Gallant snapped at Ken and the R-J’s Adam Hill when they asked him what his message to the players was in the longer-than-usual postgame talk in the Knights’ locker room and Gallant’s response was, “You think I’m going to tell you what I said? That’s none of your business.”
That’s a frustrated coach talking. But we can all surmise what Turk said — that Tuesday’s performance was unacceptable, that this team is better than that and he probably used a little stronger language to make his point.
Gallant made some good decisions. He returned Brandon Pirri to the lineup Tuesday and Pirri scored his first goal in almost a month to cut the deficit to 2-1. He kept Smith on the top line with Marchessault and William Karlsson and they created some chances. He started Fleury when it might have been easy to put Malcolm Subban in net. And by starting Fleury, Gallant sent a message to the players this was a game he took seriously and they needed to do the same. And he did some in-game juggling on his blue line, trying to get the team going.
But in watching the Knights against the Coyotes, it was more of the same — the struggle to break out of their own end with speed, the lack of finish at the opposing team’s net. The turnovers. Not playing with a whole lot of smarts.
It takes some of the pressure off of ourselves to understand that this game we got to get back to. It’s what makes us successful, put the things aside, you know. Just not a lot of jam to our game right now and that’s what we got to get back to in order to win in this league and win this time of year. –Schmidt
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, another veteran and one of the locker room’s leaders, said it’s on the players, not the coach, to fix things.
Nobody wants to lose at home. I think we need to play with more desperation. The solution is to come out hard as a team and want it more than the other team. -Bellemare
Of course, the mantra postgame was that things aren’t going to get any easier. Toronto comes to the T Thursday and the Maple Leafs with all their scoring — Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner et. al. are going to be a huge challenge. Well, maybe this is exactly the opponents the Knights need to get themselves back on track at home.
Remember, it was a week ago they went into Tampa Bay and were expected to extend what was then a four-game overall skid. And they responded the right way with a win over the Lightning. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s more of that against the Leafs.
I think this team’s collective pride has been wounded and for Gallant to spend more than his usual 10 seconds in the locker room Tuesday sent a strong message to the players. Perhaps an even stronger message was Gallant publicly calling his team soft, which is intended to be an attention-getter for his players.
You have a frustrated coach and frustrated players. Anger can be a great motivator. With that, I expect a strong response from the Knights Thursday night.
**Steve Carp is the author of “Vegas Born — The remarkable story of the Golden Knights.” Follow him on Twitter @stevecarp56. All of Steve Carp’s work here on SinBin.vegas is presented to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm. For over twenty-five years, the Jimmerson Law Firm has been widely recognized as one of Las Vegas’s preeminent full-service law firms. Specializing in high stakes business, civil and family litigation, the Jimmerson Law Firm has an unparalleled track record of winning when it matters most. To reach the Jimmerson Law Firm, call (702) 388-7171 and tell them SinBin.vegas sent you.**