I think I can sum up Saturday’s affair at T-Mobile Arena in one word:
The Golden Knights were finally back home after an extended All-Star Break and a four-game road trip. The building was energized. The opponent was good. It had all the trappings for a memorable evening.
It was memorable all right — if you’re into bizarre happenings.
Fluke goals. Crazy caroms. Shuffled lines. It all made for a memorable night for the wrong reasons as the Golden Knights squandered leads of 2-1 and 3-2 in falling to the Columbus Blue Jackets, 4-3, and left 18,301 people leaving the T shaking their heads in bewilderment and perhaps a tinge of anger.
But what you should remember from Saturday are the two points the Knights squandered. And if they should come up short in their quest to win the Pacific Division, you’ll think back to the game on Feb. 9 as one of the reasons why, just as you’ll remember the Feb. 5 win at Tampa as one of the big reasons why if they are successful in capturing the Pacific.
Vegas has been almost unbeatable at home since it joined the NHL two years ago. But lately, home has not been where the points are. The Knights have now dropped three straight at T-Mobile and last won in their own building back on Jan. 19. Their record at home this year? A far-from-stellar 16-7-3.
What’s troubling is that they had the lead in each of those three games they ultimately wound up losing. The inability to maintain or build a lead at home is becoming increasingly alarming.
With a team like that, you’ve got to play a little more methodical. That’s what’s tough. You have a lead in the third period and you can’t close them out but I thought we gave them the game. It sucks because you’re pretty happy about being up 3-2 and even though you haven’t played a great game, but you’re still up. You have a chance to close it out at home … arrragh! -Nate Schmidt
The weird goals sometimes happen over the course of a season. It wasn’t Marc-Andre Fleury’s best performance either and he was the first to admit it. Maybe the guy is human after all.
Yet the Knights still should have come out of Saturday with points. Unfortunately, Columbus’ best player, Cam Atkinson, delivered when his team needed him the most and scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner with 2:39 to play and Paul Stastny sitting in the penalty box for slashing after Atkinson had put a great move on Brayden McNabb to get free in the Vegas zone.
And had the Knights prevailed, we would be talking about Gerard Gallant’s brilliant strategy to shorten his bench after a dismal second period which saw his team manufacture just three, count ‘em, three shots on goal.
Gallant essentially went with three lines in the third period, sprinkling in Cody Eakin with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Will Carrier and Ryan Reaves while electing to sit Tomas Nosek and Valentin Zykov. And remember, Brandon Pirri wasn’t an option for Gallant as he was a healthy scratch.
The moves looked like they were going to pay off as Eakin put the Knights ahead 3-2 9:21 into the third.
It wasn’t a problem for me. You go out there, you talk with whoever (Gallant) puts you with and you just go play. -Cody Eakin
Why did Gallant do it? After that dismal second period, he couldn’t afford an encore in the third.
I didn’t like our second period at all. I just thought, trying to get the guys more into the game. So, I went down to three lines basically and rotated Pierre-Edouard Bellemare in and out. I just wanted to get the guys get going a little bit, and I thought they did. -Gallant
So what happened in the second period to necessitate such a move?
We just didn’t have any jump. We looked like we were skating in quicksand and it caught up to us a little bit. But again, we get out of the second period 2-2 and we were in good shape. I thought we played a real good third period till they scored a couple goals late. -Gallant
Personally, I thought it was the right move. Gallant wasn’t getting much from the third line. The return of Carrier to the ice for the first time since Jan. 4 was a huge boost. Eakin had been skating well and deserved to remain on the ice. And while it was unusual to bench two guys, I give Gallant credit for doing what he did.
But don’t look for that to happen with any regularity going forward. Consider it a one-off as he was trying to shake his team out of a second-period funk.
Still, a loss is a loss is a loss and the Knights need to start taking advantage of the schedule if they’re going to be serious about making a run at first place in the division. Saturday was the first of a stretch where eight of nine games are on home ice.
Merrill, whose shorthanded goal late in the first period gave the Knights a 2-1 lead, said things need to turn around quickly.
It’s definitely frustrating, obviously. You hear those fans out there, they deserve better than that. We’ve had a couple tough outings the last few in this building, so we’ve got to do a better job to get wins in here. Just believe in our game, believe in ourselves and stick together as a group and come out with a strong effort next game. -Merrill
The Knights are still in the division title hunt. Look at how quickly Calgary has come tumbling back to earth. The Flames are just one point ahead of San Jose for the division lead with Vegas only eight back. Eight points is not insurmountable. But when you squander away points at home the way the Knights did Saturday, it certainly makes the task more difficult.
This is it. This is the point of the year where you either catch the teams that are in front of you or you’re looking up at them for the remainder of the year. -Schmidt
Normally, I’d say relief is on the way as Arizona visits T-Mobile Tuesday. But the Coyotes have been playing much better. They’re two games under .500. They have a winning record on the road (14-13-2). They’re 4-4-2 in their last 10 games and, most important, they’re suddenly just four points out of a wild card spot for the playoffs.
So if you think Tuesday is a walkover and the ‘Yotes are a cure for what ails the Knights at home, guess again. Vegas may indeed get back on track, but it’ll take three periods and fewer fluky happenstances for it to materialize.
**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.**