The Golden Knights played well in Game 1. They didn’t in Game 2. The same can be said, but in reverse, for the Canucks.
In real-time last night, the game felt like a complete mess for Vegas. The neutral zone seemed wide open, the forechecking was much lighter than in Game 1, and the Golden Knights appeared to be struggling to get out of their own zone every time the puck was in it.
I took the time to go back over and watch both games with a keen eye looking for differences between mental or physical errors and tactical advantages to try and confirm what I saw live. I expected to find one game that showed Vegas imposing their style and the other game Vancouver doing it. That’s not what happened.
Instead, what I saw was a rash of errors by both teams. For the Golden Knights in Game 2, it was mostly errors that led directly to goals. For the Canucks, it was a bit of a slower burn as their mistakes piled up leading to constant pressure by the Golden Knights.
Once Nate Schmidt and Brayden McNabb blew a coverage in their own end leading to a 2-on-0 in front of Robin Lehner. Another time William Karlsson was caught puck watching and Elias Pettersson was given a Grade A chance that he scored. And another Shea Theodore was simply outskated in the neutral zone, which almost never happens, and it wound up placing Alec Martinez in a position where he had to cover two high-end players right around the goal mouth.
The Canucks did not impose their will on the Golden Knights in Game 2 as much as the Golden Knights shot themselves in the foot.
I thought we could have tied it up in the 2nd or at the very least been down 2-1 but we make a mental mistake on a faceoff play and we’re down 3-1 and have nothing to show for the work you put in to get back in the game. -DeBoer
On the other side, Game 1 was a lot of the same from the Canucks. They struggled to move the puck out of their own end with precision. They bobbled passes that a playoff team normally wouldn’t. And in many cases, plays that NHL players normally make in tight situations were not being made.
These mistakes led to the Golden Knights living in the Canucks zone and with the talent and skill Vegas has, it eventually led to goals.
They’re a momentum team. Man, when they start to go they really come at you hard. I thought there were a few times we didn’t get a puck out that probably would’ve relieved some of the pressure. Then when you start to defend tired things are going to open up and it did. -Travis Green
That quote was after the game the Canucks won too. Following Game 1, Green didn’t really have much to say other than “we didn’t play well,” and he was right, they didn’t.
So where does that leave us for the rest of the series?
Almost exactly where we were when it started. Vegas has the upper-hand because they are the better team. Vancouver has shown they can take advantage of Golden Knights errors, but they’ve yet to show they can consistently force the mistakes with their speedy play.
In a normal season, the saying is “the series doesn’t start until someone wins on the road,” which clearly doesn’t work for this season. So instead, we’ll go with this…
This series doesn’t start until both teams play like they can in the same game.
It hasn’t happened yet.