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Carp: Adversity Greets Golden Knights In Canada

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

By and large, a trip to Canada is a pleasant experience. But there was nothing pleasant about the start to the Golden Knights’ visit to Montreal.

With a lot of issues for both the Knights, who are playing without Chandler Stephenson, their top center, and the Canadiens, who had to play without their head coach after Dominique Ducharme found himself testing positive for COVID-19, it came down to who handled their adversity better in Game 3. Ultimately, it was Montreal that was able to get the better of things Friday, winning 3-2 in overtime and taking a 2-1 series lead in the Stanley Cup semifinals.

We all know what happened so there’s no point in rehashing Marc-Andre Fleury’s gaffe playing the puck that allowed the Canadiens to tie it late in regulation. Or all the missed opportunities to get more than a couple past Carey Price in the Habs’ net.

The question is: How does Vegas respond today in Game 4?

Does the Knights’ power play, which has been woefully anemic, suddenly find new life? Do Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty rediscover their offense, even without Stephenson?

That’s a lot to digest and not much time to do so. Because even if the Knights find all the right answers today, all it does is get them back to square one with the Canadiens. It becomes a best-of-three series with two of the three in the Fortress, where the Habs took Game 2 Wednesday to tie the series.

And if Montreal prevails today? Does this team have the wherewithal to win three straight?

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s start with the adjustments and improvements which need to be made.

First, it appears there will be a change in goal. Robin Lehner was first off the ice at the morning skate and was practicing in the “starter’s net” so that’s obviously huge.

Lehner has played one game in the playoffs and he hasn’t won since May 7 vs. St. Louis. Maybe Fleury is mentally and physically in need of a reboot. Maybe Pete DeBoer thinks a change in net perks everyone else up. I think this is a huge gamble on his part. But the one thing I can see why this makes sense is Montreal isn’t the offensive juggernaut Colorado was, so perhaps Lehner isn’t under attack for 60 minutes and he can make the necessary plays to keep his team in it.

Then there’s the power play. If we’re totally honest, it has been an issue from Opening Night and remains a problem in late June. Currently, the team’s success rate with the man advantage is just 10.5%. During the regular season, it was only 17.8%, 22nd in the NHL. So to say it has been a problem that just recently cropped up would be a misnomer.

So what’s the issue? The entries into the Montreal zone are poor. The setup is inconsistent. Too much standing around. Not enough bodies getting to the front of the net.

There are a lot of problems (on the power play), I don’t think you can pinpoint just one. Our breakouts have been bad. We’re not doing a good job handling pressure. We’re not releasing the puck very well. And we’re not doing a good job crashing the net and picking up rebounds. There are a lot of things we have to get better at, and it’s costing us the series right now. -Reilly Smith

But let’s give Montreal some credit. The Canadiens’ penalty kill is, in a word, disruptive. They pressure. They block shots. They look to attack at every opportunity. In 14 playoff games so far, Montreal has been shorthanded 41 times. The Habs have allowed just three goals while scoring four shorthanded tallies. At 92.7%, their kill is No. 1 in the postseason. Paul Byron has been a big part of that success. He is aggressive and has a great sense of anticipation of where the puck is going and he’s usually there to meet it and make a play.

Still, it’s on the Knights to adjust things. We give DeBoer credit when things go right. This is something he and his staff own as assistant Steve Spott is in charge of the power play.

The power play wasn’t great. It was probably the only piece of our game that wasn’t great. It’s something we have to continue to work out. -DeBoer

How’s that for an understatement? It comes down to playing with urgency and matching Montreal’s determination in trying to kill off the penalties.

It’s about time as a group we take a little more pride in playing on the power play. -Stone

Speaking of Stone, the Captain is going through a bit of an offensive funk in 5-on-5 hockey. He has zero points in the semis and just five shots on goal through the first three games. He needs to get more involved and he knows it.

His linemate Max Pacioretty isn’t faring much better. Pacioretty has just one assist so far against his former team and has eight shots total. The former Canadiens captain was booed by the 3,500 fans inside Bell Centre every time he touched the puck Friday and the Habs have been trying to rough him up at every turn in the hopes of throwing Pacioretty off his game.

They obviously miss Stephenson, who was injured in Game 1 and has not returned to the ice since the game ended. It’s not just his speed, it’s his hockey sense, his ability in the faceoff circle, his penalty-killing prowess along with his physicality that is missing. I don’t know that we see him in Game 5 Tuesday (Ken reported he isn’t with the team in Canada). DeBoer has tried four different centers — Nic Roy, Keegan Kolesar, Alex Tuch, and Tomas Nosek — in an attempt to jump-start Stone and Pacioretty to no avail. And it is becoming a critical issue for the Golden Knights.

The Misfit Line of Smith, William Karlsson, and Jonathan Marchessault has suddenly cooled off. They have yet to score in the semifinals and have four assists total through three games. When your top six are failing to list the lamp, you’ve got a problem.

Suddenly, it’s starting to look more and more like a year ago in the bubble in Edmonton and if memory serves, the Knights never figured out that problem until it was too late. And given the way Price is playing in the Montreal net, getting this straightened out may be a bigger challenge than normal.

If you’re looking for a bright spot, look at Alex Pietrangelo. He continues to be a threat offensively and with four goals and 11 points, he’s finally playing like the player the Knights hoped he would be. He is second to Karlsson (13 points) in the team’s postseason scoring. His defense has been steadily improving with each round and he played over 30 minutes Friday. So PDB obviously trusts No. 7.

So what else happens today? Who centers for Stone and Pacioretty? Is Ryan Reaves, who played just nine shifts and six minutes total in Game 3, in or out of the lineup? Is it time to consider bringing Peyton Krebs into the lineup, assuming he’s available, and play him with Stone and Pacioretty?

One thing we know: DeBoer’s not about to tip his hand. You’ll have to wait until the starting lineup is turned in to find out what he decided to do and hope it ultimately works for his team to get back in a series it started out in dominating fashion but suddenly finds itself playing catch-up. The Knights are still very much alive in this series. But they’re going to have to reverse some disturbing trends if they plan to play for the Cup.

On a separate note, I want to wish all the dads a Happy Father’s Day. You’re appreciated and I hope it’s a wonderful day for all of you.

**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.**

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33 Comments

  1. Richard Santomauro

    An entire year has gone by and yet PDB has yet to be able to fix the Power Play? Do we really lay this on the backs of the #1 and #2 PP units? After all, they are getting paid millions and have the skill and talent. There’s no doubt about that.

    It seems to me that there simply hasn’t been enough focus/practice on this critical offensive strategy. 0-12 in the past 5 games and 0-10 in the semifinal round is a recipe for losing. Score just once or twice on those 10 opportunities and this series could be 3-0 VGK!

    Also, when was the last time Reilly Smith stole a puck on the PK? When was the last time VGK scored a shortie?

    MTL is disrupting VGK at their blue line, stripping pucks and stopping entry. They are also creating counter attack opportunities. Some adjustments are needed on how the enter the zone, or they need to dump it in and use speed to get behind them to create opportunities.

  2. DOC (Go Knights Go)

    Got to have it.

    Need it.

    Must get it, tonight.

    Maybe Panda can play, brain-fart free, tonight?

    • jinklu

      OMG Doc If The Lump is in goal it will be miraculous if the Habs don’t score in double digits IMO.

    • Via LV

      Cowalanda can’t do worse than 7-1, can he? Oh, wait…

  3. Mike StG

    Good article, salient points. My two cents:

    – Leave Tuch at C1. He’s the best fit and they had a lot of opportunities last game. PDB put Nosek in late because they were ahead and faceoffs & defense were more important at that point in the game.

    – Replace Reaves with Glass. PDB said Glass would help them on the PP, and he would add an offensive dimension that Reaves doesn’t provide on L4. They only played Reaves 6 minutes the last game. They could play Cody 6 minutes 5v5 as well. But they badly need PP scoring. It’s worth the small risk.

  4. Steph Durant

    The Montreal Canadiens have won 21 straight play-off games when scoring 3+ goals.

    They play sound a comprehensive 200-foot “two-way” game in front of the best big game goaltender in the game. They don’t need to do “offensive juggernaut” to win.

    • Richard Santomauro

      If that’s the case then explain their regular season record and recent history. Montreal is extremely lucky this series isn’t 2-1 Vegas right now. Extremely.

  5. Jeff

    Steve, is PDB punishing Fleury or is he convinced that Lehner gives them the best chance to win tonight? The game this evening is perhaps the most important of the round. I predict that the winner of this game goes on to the cup.

    • Smoke

      Yes, good question. Punishment or Lehner better?

    • Richard Santomauro

      Fleury is 36 years old. I thought that playing Lehner in game 2 or 3 would have been a better move to give #29 a rest. I think this is all about a rest and to get him back on track mentally after the Buckner incident.

      • Mike StG

        Richard, I agree. Maybe they held off on game 2 hoping to ride Fleury to a 2-0 series lead, and they could play Lehner in game 3. But when series went to Montreal at 1-1 they played Fleury thinking game 4 would be Lehner, leaving Fleury with 3 days rest for a crucial game 5 at TMA. We’ll never know their thought process but it’s fun to speculate. 🙂

    • Mike StG

      I wonder if it isn’t about giving Fleury some rest. If there is a game you’d probably want Lehner to play it would be this one. If Vegas plays the same as the last game then the SOG won’t be very high, and it’s not a series-deciding game. Also, I’d think they would want Fleury in goal on Tuesday at TMA and for any elimination games (either way). Maybe the plan all along was to get Lehner a game in every series to give Fleury a bit of rest. Especially in the middle of this series where you’re playing every other night and traveling 5-6 hrs with 3-hr time change on the off-day. After Game 2 Fleury did say postgame that his legs were a little heavy. Just some thoughts on possible reasons for the goalie change…

      • Daryl

        If MAF said after game 2 his legs were a little heavy then game 3 should have been the game to rest him….

        Price is almost 34 but I don’t remember seeing him having to work as hard as MAF has this post season. VGK hasn’t given up many shots but they seem to have given up a lot of high danger shots. Maybe it has taken its toll on the goalie

      • Jeff

        I would have thought Game 3 would have been the one to have rested Fleury and come back with him fresh for Game 4 having gotten over travel and somewhat the time change which is brutal going East.

    • Geezy

      Maybe he doesn’t want to rush Fleury losing confidence and then having a bad game if the Habs score first. Gives him a mental and physical break in a non series ending game. Also gives Lehner a chance to play in a low pressure non series ending game to rebuild his confidence and get him back in his groove. I wish Lehner would’ve started game 3. Rest MAF and no pressure on Lehner, but here we are.

  6. Julie

    I expect to see more from Petro and Marchessault today. But some decisions, last minute changes or rash ones, I don’t feel too good about. Fingers crossed.

    • Daryl

      What I’m worried about is Petra trying to do too much offensively and leave our goalie or other Dman out to dry. He had a history of that before coming to VGK. He has played great lately and I hope he continues to play just like he has and not try to do too much

      • Mike StG

        I’m speculating that if they went to Montreal up 2-0 they might’ve played Lehner in game 3. But since it was 1-1 they stayed with Fleury thinking that game 4 wouldn’t be as critical as Game 5 at TMA (where the series will be either 2-2 or 3-1). It would stand to reason they would definitely want Fleury in net for the critical home game on Tuesday.

      • Mike StG

        Daryl, Petro has Marty backing him up so I think he can activate without too much concern.

        Last game the mistake was Holden shooting from the point with Petro behind the goal and the F not covering for Petro. Holden’s ill advised shot was blocked by Suzuki and Caulfield was off on a breakaway and scored.

        • Daryl

          I’m not blaming anything in the last game on Petra…. I’m just saying that since he is playing well I don’t want him to try and do too much. Players have to talk and let the others know what they plan on doing. It’s hard watching games to really understand or know who’s actually at fault. Forwards do need to float back when a Dman pushes… but Petra has a history of pushing too much. He had a very good defender next to him on his previous team whiched helped him out a lot. They also seem to do a better job of getting to lose pucks better than VGK has which has slowed the odd man rushes.

          I want Petra to continue doing what he has this series… Not more

      • Julie

        Hi, Daryl – I agree with you. I mean, I like it when he scores a goal, don’t get me wrong, but what are the high-priced players doing that are supposed to be the scoring elite on the team? I always have this feeling with the team that the players we should be counting on to score are not consistent in these playoffs. It’s nice to see Janmark get a hat trick, and the occasional from Brown or even Hague when he plays, Holden is doing well, and even Theodore showed up a couple games ago – but I want to see Stone, Patch, Smith, Tuch and Marchessault come out with sticks blazing. So I’m hoping even if Lehner 7.1 is playing tonight, it won’t be an issue.

        • Jeff

          I understand that the high priced forwards have been diagnosed with some type of upper body injury commonly known as a throat ailment. I hope it clears up by game time today!

  7. Well, well, well, finally everyone has come out from the ether and now realizes just how important the pp is. Unfortunately vegas hasn’t fixed it all yr and to think someone will wave a magic wand to correct it now is actually redickious. Smith and Stone outlined the problem – they know what they are not doing so if l am not mistaken that is referred to indirectly as lack of winning attitude. It is bad enough to know what’s wrong but not doing g something about it is tragic. They are being beat by a team that wasn’t even 50% wins in regular season – what does that say???? It is rather disappointing to say the least. Lack of pp is the killer for this vegas team along with a serious lack of winning attitude. They maybe able to correct the latter but the pp questionable after a years time.

    • Daryl

      They’ve had the entire year to fix the PP. PDB may not be the PP coach but he is the HC and is overall responsible. How many have commented on the PP all season? It’s like they aren’t even addressing the issue

    • Richard Santomauro

      I don’t think it is a matter of a winning attitude. Montreal’s got a huge defense and great scheme that pushes the opposition to the outside. They’re really good at that and defending their blue line. We need to dump and use our speed to get to the puck quickly with a strategy for getting a quality chance set up.

    • Julie

      Hey, HD! How are you? 🙂 I am hopeful for today’s game, but I was more confident yesterday. I’m curious, if you had to rank VGK’s issues, what would they be? It seems the Power Play is #2 if not #1.

      • Hi Julie how goes the battle – A strong PP can be a game changer and make up for some other short comings. Why they haven’t been able to improve in that category is beyond comprehension. It is actually painful watching their pp. I firmly believe their lack of net presences is part of their overall issues which if executed would help the PP a lot. Parking themselves off to the side of the net does next to nothing screening the goalie. There winning goal last night came about by being down in the trenches where they need to be more often. Successful teams, the majority of the time, are doing whatever is necessary to block a goalie view of the play.

  8. Daryl

    Heres my thoughts, if your are making a change simply to give MAF a rest then he doesn’t even need to suit up. If at some point there is a need for a goalie change the game is probably over anyway so give MAF a full games rest. When was the last time a goalie was pulled and the team still won? How about in the playoffs?

    • Mike StG

      It could be an issue if Lehner is injured early in the game, or even later if the score is close. Rare occurrence but it happened this year to teams in the regular season.

      No harm in a playoff game for Fleury to suit up.

  9. Richard Santomauro

    Period 1 Analysis.

    MTL BELIEVING THEY CAN WIN.

    Fore checking and controlling the tempo, first to the puck, better passing and winning in every statistical category except goals, which are even.

    VGK passing is not good at all. If they had a scheme to get into the MTL zone it isn’t working at all.

    SOG: 10 MTL, 4 VGK

    Forwards have had some good chances but have not been able to hit net.

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