Last night in Alberta the Golden Knights were dominant. Despite falling behind 1-0 on a power play goal, Vegas slowly but surely dismantled one of the best teams in the league, the Calgary Flames.
They did it by playing the way that has made them successful each of the past few seasons. Even though they tallied six goals in the game, it was the defensive game that led the charge. Starting with the coverage in the defensive zone, extending to the gap control at the blue line, and finishing with consistent responsible play through the neutral zone and in the offensive zone, the Golden Knights made life difficult on the Flames all over the ice.
No matter the roster, the best versions of the Golden Knights since Pete DeBoer took over have been defensive stalwarts. They snuff out chances before they ever happen and in doing so it feeds a transition game that is one of the most deadly in the NHL. Far too often this year, mistakes have led to breakdowns all over the ice which leads to goals against and struggling offensive consistency. Last night, while not quite mistake-free, was as close to a perfect effort as you’ll find in a road game against a division-leading opponent.
By playing that way, Vegas was able to draw multiple penalties which led to a pair of goals on or right after the ensuing power play, and it caused a usually under control Flames team to press for offense, leading to loads of turnovers and excellent chances going the other way.
But it’s just one game, and at this point, it remains an outlier among a 75-game season that has been marred by inconsistency. Vegas has played excellent defensive games in the past, including recently against Nashville, a March game against Los Angeles, and probably the best defensive output of the year a game at Washington in January. Unfortunately, Vegas backed each and every one of those games up with a letdown the following time out.
After the Washington game, they allowed four to the high-flying Hurricanes in what was a rapid wide-open Carolina style game before getting smacked around in Florida. After LA, they got shut out by the Wild and Jets in consecutive games while allowing seven. And following the Nashville game, Vegas needed a ferocious three-goal 3rd period comeback to defeat the 27th-ranked Chicago Blackhawks.
The Golden Knights have to back this brilliant performance in Calgary up, and they know it.
It’s important that we get on a little roll here. We put ourselves in a position that now we’ve got to win probably five of our last seven games here to get in. -Pete DeBoer
It’s only one win, we have a lot more to do here. -Jonathan Marchessault
That’s what we need moving forward. We need to be gritty. Really just play playoff hockey. That’s what we have to continue doing. -William Karlsson
Each and every player who spoke after the win in Calgary mentioned the importance of continuing the success on Saturday and beyond. While the playoff picture is looking much brighter today than it did last week, it can turn dark just as quickly if the Golden Knights don’t keep playing the way they did last night.
The schedule is not in Vegas’ favor as the Golden Knights still have four playoff-bound teams on the schedule while the team they chase doesn’t have any.
Simply put, the dominant performance at the Saddledome will only have meaning if they can do it again tomorrow and then Monday, and then Wednesday.
Everyone seems to understand it, now they need to prove it.