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Golden Knights Beating Themselves As Much As They’re Being Beaten By Montreal

Much of the focus five games in this series with Montreal will be on the Golden Knights’ inability to score goals. Rightfully so, as they have mustered just 11 goals in the series and a measly seven since the return of Jeff Petry in Game 2. But it’s the way they are conceding that has me more concerned for the next game (or hopefully two).

Last night, the Golden Knights came out and played a pretty solid first 10 minutes. In a postseason where 1st periods have been a problem, it looked like we were headed for something much different to start Game 5.

Another failed power play, the 12th of the series at the time, could have sapped some of the Vegas energy. However, that wasn’t the case. Following the man advantage, the Golden Knights attempted the next two shots on goal and controlled play for the next few minutes. The game was going perfectly for the Golden Knights until they started making their own mistakes.

After a dump-in by Zach Whitecloud, there was a battle for the puck in the corner. The Habs outnumbered the Golden Knights for the puck, but Nick Holden read that the exit will come up the wall. He stepped forward to challenge a pass that never happened, and then when the puck did eventually make it to his player, he was caught in no-man’s land.

It’s a read Holden has made correctly time and time again in this series and aggressive pinches like this are a big reason the VGK forecheck has had success in the times it has. In this case, it was not the right read, but that one mistake didn’t lead to the goal by itself, there were still two more to come.

On the exit, all five Montreal skaters were on the same side of the ice. Thus, Whitecloud must be supporting that side of the ice defensively. He was close, but just a bit too far towards the center of the ice, which opened the breakaway for Josh Anderson. Then came mistake number three. Holden’s backcheck was listless. He was heading back with Jesperi Kotkaniemi but when the play was kept alive by the initial stop from Marc-Andre Fleury, Holden wasn’t able to recover to challenge the play.

Now, the Habs were on the board and they could start playing deploying their much more defensive mindset. It wasn’t because they flipped the switch and started dominating Vegas, instead it was born out of a trio of mistakes by the Golden Knights.

The second goal was almost identical. Alec Martinez pinched in too far, Jon Merrill made a good play around him, and then the backchecking wasn’t hard enough to break up the rest of the play.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

But it’s the final one that sunk Vegas for good, a mistake that came from what should be the most unlikely of sources. While killing a penalty, Mark Stone made a good read to pick off a pass and kill a possession. He exited the zone with control of the puck and was skating into a 2-on-2 situation. Mind you, Stone had been on the ice killing the penalty for nearly 40 seconds at this point. Instead of dumping the puck in, he tried to navigate through two players at the offensive blue line. The puck was poked away and it lead to a rush the other way. Again, the backchecking was too slow and too soft (in this case, likely because of the lone PK shift) and it allowed an open shot from the slot by Eric Staal.

These are simply plays that cannot be made in the postseason, especially by the captain and best player on the roster.

The Golden Knights have not been at their best each of the last two games, but as much credit as the Canadiens deserve, a ton of the blame must fall on the shoulders of Vegas themselves. Montreal is a different team when they have the lead. They become the exact type of matchup nightmare the Golden Knights have struggled to solve in four of their last five playoff series. But allowing them to get there has been as much a product of VGK mistakes as it has Montreal successes.

Certainly, there are some tactical tweaks necessary heading into Game 6 at the Bell Centre the Golden Knights must make. The biggest among them though has to be a reinvigorated commitment to protecting the puck in all three zones. Vegas did a masterful job of it against the Avalanche and it led to four straight wins. If they get back to it immediately, there’s still a very good chance they can win this series as well. If they don’t, the curtain will close abruptly on 2021.

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40 Comments

  1. George L.

    Excellent article. I do not see Vegas coming back. I see them carrying a ghost from last playoffs and a ghost of power play failures.

    Small mistakes beget momentum swings.

    The bigger killer of this series isn’t goal keeping or defense, the nail in the coffin is absolute lack of offense.

    Mark Stone has been outplayed and out worked.

    • DC

      George,
      “the nail in the coffin is absolute lack of offense.” You are right and you’d be right if you said the same thing about last season. Yet what did Vegas do in the off season? They signed a marque D-man, Pietrangelo, someone who just happens to be their best scorer in the playoffs – just more evidence that VGKs need help in the O-zone. Anytime you see a team repeatedly dumping and chasing the puck into the O-zone and having turnovers in the neutral zone, it’s game over! I hope they figure things out and get a win in Montreal.

      • Kai

        Well, again DeBoar cannot motivate his first two lines to do anything … Like he never did ok San Jose … Hiring that looser was the biggest mistake … With that coach they will never win a cup. When gallant was coach, they were prepared and ready when in playoffs … Nothing like that with DeBoar … If they want to win a cup DeBoar needs to go ..m why would you hire a coach from a team you constantly beat in the playoffs … Stupid …

        • Original 6

          @Kai absolutely correct. He never had a guy station in front of net area always 3 guy chase ! Also Stone is not a Capt Petro is & Martinez & Petro showed what it takes to Win ! No creativity on Pwr play nobody on off wings looking for open space to shoot ! If they. actually watched game film De Boer is clueless !

  2. Richard Santomauro

    I actually believe that if VGK gets back to better puck protection and plays a game that isn’t solely focused on attacking the MTL trap directly that they still can win 2 in a row.

    Fleury has been giving up way too many rebounds of late. It’s time to put Lehner back out there for games 6 and 7.

    While the fan base may be totally disappointed, I don’t think the players are ready to just roll over and walk away from this opportunity. They worked too hard through rounds 1 and 2 to get to this point. Winning 2 straight games?

    DOABLE.

  3. Vic

    I’m a MAF fan, but after the performance by Lehner in game 4, it seemed logical to play him in game 5. If he wasn’t sharp, then back to MAF. Both goalies can deal with sitting. Back to the main topic, our defense looks beaten down. Whitecloud was excellent all season and most of the playoffs, but the constant hitting by the Habs makes him look slower and confused. Holden is not long for the VGK. Shea hasn’t looked the same since #7 arrived, and he is getting worse defensively. No excuses for the top 6 as they haven’t played their guts out. It’s going to be very difficult to win 2 games, but stranger things have happened.

  4. Howard

    Excellent commentary and all correct, but you left out the face that VGK’s zone entries have been poor and forced – skating too much into traps, rather than either chip dumps (not preferable against this team). or cross ice passing near redline. Instead, VGK loses a lot of puck battles right at the blueline because F1 or F2 HOLDS the puck, taking too long to make a decision.

    As much as Stone has done this and been terrible. Smith has been as bad if not worse.

    Smith on any other good team IMO is really a 3rd line winger.

    All I have to say. Honestly, team looks defeated and out of gas.

    It’s good you are positive Ken, but I sadly strongly feel that it’ll be over for us next game based on this.

  5. THE hockey GOD

    all great comments, good article.

    Let me add that I believe two more items are at play. One of them Julie brought up.

    First I believe the the HOME ICE has been terrible. The players admitted as much. And you can see players falling all over the place. Terrible ice favors the slower, bigger, older, team. The HABS. But that home ice is gone now. The reasons for slow ice I posted earlier.

    The second thing I believe some of our top players are playing hurt. This is one of my pet peeve. I don’t know why players who are hurt, and play at 50% or less think they are doing the team a favor by staying in the game while someone with less kill at 100% (look at HABS) could probably do a better job. I believe STONE is hurt, and maybe a few of the others. We will know soon enough. Don’t be surprised if they do, or do not, reveal all the ailments. Coach admitted as much saying players are all not 100% “expected at this time of the year”.

    • THE hockey GOD

      if the franchise is going to have bad ice in playoffs in middle of June and July they should build a team around the bad ice; the team they have now is not a “bad ice” team. Either fix the ice, or match the team to seasonal ice issue. We all now the greedy owners won’t change the playoff dates to a more reasonable, seaonable friendly end of March/April time frame. That means beginning the season a lot earlier or cutting out some games.

      • Julie

        Hg, I would imagine having 18k+ bodies in there in June also has an effect. Waterboy would know how to maintain the proper H2O in any form. Vegas has the means to have the premier Ice Guru on staff 24/7. Well, maybe not given all the cap/covid impacts. Nevermind. 🙂

    • ulf

      Funnily enough the Habs’ average age is 28.9. VGK’s average age is 29.2. So Vegas is actually the older team. And the Habs’ trio of young players (Suzuki, Caufield, Kotkaniemi) have all been more impactful than pretty much any Knight, maybe AP is in that range though.
      The Habs have also won more Cups and more Olympic medals than the Knights, for whatever that’s worth.

      No argument on ice, but good teams know how to coach and play on them – Vegas would have worse ice on average than Montreal due to climate anyway, so you’d think PDB would factor that in.

      And yeah I’m sure some VGK are playing hurt. Everyone does – Weber and Petry, the Habs’ top 2 D-men, are playing very hurt. One can’t even move his wrist. That’s why they’re not shooting as well.

      VGK can still win this but let’s be real, they’re not an elite team and going up against a coachable team with a lot of Cup veterans who play as a unit is a very tough challenge for this roster as it currently stands.

      • THE hockey GOD

        “Funnily enough the Habs’ average age is 28.9. VGK’s average age is 29.2.” not talking about “average ” here, talking about ice time, the old galoots on Montreal are logging a lot more minutes. Those MTL dmen are doing fine out there, their injuries are not impacting their defensive abilities to block shorts, muck up the lane, and move puck quickly out of the zone.

        The coach can’t change individual’s abilities based upon ice, especially if it favors one team’s style of play over another. It’s not like a light switch where you can turn it on or turn it off. It doesn’t work that way.

        It’s bound to catch up to them.

        • ulf

          Having skated for over 40 years on various ice surfaces (some playing hockey, some just booting around the rink), I agree it’s not about a light switch, it’s about having a game plan to account for how you’re going to collectively work on the ice. That’s on PDB – if the ice is too crap for the way you’d like your team to play, you’d better have a system that your team has practiced and that will be a reply to bad conditions. Professional players can adapt. You just have to set the plan, and PDB has shown he’s by-and-large a coach that doesn’t like to adapt much.

  6. DOC (Go Knights Go)

    LEHNER IS OUR ONLY HOPE NOW!

    Fleury is used up!

  7. Brian

    Ken, from what I remember, you weren’t too displeased about how the team played overall in the first three games. But we all know what happened at the end of regulation in game 3, and how the team, despite stealing game 4, has played since.

    I don’t think MAF’s gaffe should’ve had that great of an impact on the team’s psyche, but what if it did? And if so, what does it say about the mental makeup of the guys?

  8. LVsc

    …..dump and chase needs to be dump and RETRIEVE….iow, they have to have a plan and a purpose when they dump the puck. It needs to be a set play understood by all……having a winger like Tuch racing in to beat the dman to the puck, or using a cross corner dump to exploit the weak side. but forwards standing still at the blue line, and dumping with no plan or pursuit is a recipe for failure every time.

    Lately in this series what we see most often is dump and hesitate, or dump and stand still, or dump and change lines. giving the puck away for free, which is allowing their trap to work…. and that means both physically and mentally surrendering to their strategy, their game, their style of play.

  9. A VGK Fan

    We need to bring Reaves back. Reaves-Nosek-Carrier. Start them to get the mojo going. We got away from that during the COL series due to speed, but we need to get back to that this series. MTL was being extremely physical last night and we did not have the muscle to fight back. The 4th line forecheck is what gets this team going and will Keep MTLs guys honest on their checking. Also, i’m not opposed to bringing back Hague either for his size and his power bomb shots.

  10. Tim

    When your top 2 lines have 1 goal in 5 games it’s only a surprise that were still alive. O – 13 in this series and 4 – 41 in the playoffs it’s surprising we beat either Minnesota or Colorado. With the PP being such a powerful weapon you would think that they would take more time reviewing teams with good PP and learn and implement some different looks. To lose 2 games at home and score 11 goals in 5 games kind of says it all. I know Doc hates when I use my eye test versus computer stats but he’s what sticks out to me. Theadore needs to get traded while he has value he’s like a deer in the headlights half the time 5 million saved. Fleury next on the chopping block if Pittsburg still wants him 8 million although we love him the time has come. Riley Smith has lost it time to break up the misfit line 5 million. Also on the chopping block Reeves 1.8 million, Holden 1.8 million, Patch isn’t getting any younger and he’s dealt with injuries so recovering his 8 million would be tempting. What we could get in trade who knows but that’s 30 million dollars to play with. I think resigning Nosek 110% 1.25 million, Janmark a pleasant surprise 2.5 million, Martinez 4 million a little older but has balls should all be resigned. Everyone else in my opinion is OK and signed. Now we need to get 2 legitimate centers and then transfer players to there suitable lines. We need more speed because as the saying goes speed kills. Any poster can add or subtract from my list or you can tell me I’m full of shit whatever works but things need to change.

    • ulf

      that’s pretty much who I’d trade too @Tim, Patches’ value will only go down from here so moving him now is the right idea.
      Theodore I think you could get something for. Patches you’ll have to be happy with a lesser player and/or prospects. Fleury, Smith, Reaves, Holden all have 1 year remaining and either their salaries or their skills will mean you’re moving them for way less than you’d like.

    • Rob S.

      While I don’t disagree with most of your “tradeables,” Fleury and Pacioretty count $7 million each, not 8. The main one I *do* disagree with is Pacioretty. He is the only sniper we have on the entire roster. We’ve all been complaining about the lack of scoring, so why would you trade the one forward “threat” that you have…especially if, as Ulf says, “you’ll have to be happy with a lesser player and/or prospects”!?

      I’d be willing to include Marchessault in a package for a top-flight center, too. The experiment of playing with one of the worst sets of the centers in the league may work against our crap division, but it is a failure in the playoffs.

      Finally, the one other player I would definitely trade–or give away–is McNabb. The scariest phrase in the English language is “back to McNabb at the point.” He has no offensive talent whatsoever (don’t even start about the miracle flub by Price the other night), he is slower than Engelland (who has been retired for a year), he gets caught up ice way too often and he makes the slowest (and usually incorrect) reads every time, especially in the D-zone. Oh, and he can be counted on to fall down on his own two to four times a game. Basically all he can do is hip-check people into the wall–and punch them in the back of the head. Have you noted that every D-man he has partenered with has gone into the tank? Schmidt, Pietrangelo, Theodore–all of them. I’m convinced he has pictures on Foley and/or the Splash Brothers. There’s no other explanation for why they run him out there 25 minutes every damned night.

      • knights fan in minny

        not a lot of teams are going to give up top flight centers dubios has not panned out yet a few years back ryan johansen was the top flight center avalable he has done nothing

        • Rob S.

          It doesn’t take but one or two. If you were Edmonton, would you listen to Marchessault, Theodore, McNabb and a first-rounder (or two) for Draisaitl? (Yes, I know they won’t trade Hockey Jesus.)

          • knights fan in minny

            leon would be great to get i think they would want a prospect and a young starter

          • Richard Santomauro

            We have some good players on the Silver Knights roster to develop.

            In hindsight Suzuki should not have been traded away.

          • ulf

            Edmonton is not making that deal. McDavid and Draisatl are the two major pieces they are building around, and they don’t have another center to put in there yet. They have a couple of good young D coming up and money off the books as of this year and next. They’ll look elsewhere. But we can dream I suppose!

      • Tim

        Rob your right 7 million each my error. To continue some good points by you and other posters and this is our team. Personally I’d rather have conversations on how to improve the team instead of bitching about this guy or this guy. From the trade guys I mentioned what kind of return can we get not sure but the Splash Brothers are pretty good at that most of the time.

      • ulf

        oh RE: Patches he’s going to be 33 this coming season and generally is not a strong playoff performer, averaging 0.55 points per game in his 7 post-seasons – not great for a supposed 1st liner. He’s had 2 post-season exceptions, and this year hasn’t been bad until recently. But he’s a quickly declining asset and Vegas needs a shakeup (and access to his cap hit).

  11. Howard

    Tim – not full of shit and rather spot on except I’d say I’d rather have skilled CENTERS, like 2 more of them and that can be done implementing some trades you suggest.

    For what it’s worth, I’m most displeased with Stone skipping out on the post game presser last night. For shits sake, he’s the damned captain!

    Captain should be front and center taking the heat. Team might want to think about changing that “C” to someone else and not because of his play, but because he refused to be on that podium last night.

    • Rob S.

      That’s well said, Howard. Stone is the freaking Captain, with a capital “C.” It’s his job to take the heat and to help come up with some answers–and to be having some private “chats” with teammates that may need a swift kick in the ass based on what we’ve seen the last few games.

      • Howard

        Honestly Rob, Petro is acting way more like a Captain than anyone else on this team – oh ya, he was Captain on The Blues = experience in that.

  12. knights fan in minny

    hope to be wrong habs close it out thursday vegas cant hit the net or get in prices face

  13. Vic

    Hopefully the boys watched the Isles tonight to see what it’s like when players play their asses off. They hit hard and held Tampa in check then scoring three on the mighty V. Everyone did their job.

    • Howard

      Tampa missing arguably the best all around player in The NHL had a lot to do with Islanders winning.

  14. Al Bundy of Hockey

    Falls squarely on the coach. Habs came in with their system as advertised. VGK’s initial counter to that was to use the stretch pass. Having implemented a very similar system to the Habs’ years ago at the college level with tremendous success, we hoped teams would use the stretch pass. Aside from the stretch pass, the system is a long-term play designed to frustrate the opponent which leads to “squeezing of the stick” and forcing / making plays you normally wouldn’t. This in turn leads to all kinds of uncharacteristic mistakes from pressing by your normally, very reliable guys. Ripples thru the opposition as the destruction of their confidence transfers to their PP as well. Vegas has the horses, the problem is the coaching staff has not implemented a strategy that will lead to success. Players take things into their own hands which results in the turnovers. Again, the desired result of the Habs system. We termed it, “give them the noose”. Play diligently in the shut-down system, chances will come because the opposition will hang themselves. I counted “neutral-zone” turnovers in game 5, defined as having an opportunity to get the puck in deep and failing to do so. 16 in the 1st, 7 in the 2nd (6 minutes of special teams in the period), 12 in the third. Obviously, this leads to less offensive zone time, no “flow” in your game, fewer hits, fewer shots and fewer goals. It’s also important to notice, the Habs treat their blue line and the red line like the goal line in the Super Bowl – part of the system and no deadly, Leaf, Jets, VGK transition coming back at them.

    • Howard

      Al Bundy of Hockey – Spot on accurate and Dallas used same system last year basically to frustrate basically the same team. I think we lose this series, it’s time to say goodbye to PDB.

      • Blitz

        I don’t put full blame PDB for last year in the playoffs. It was a team he was still molding from a late season take over. It was a weird year etc etc. He definitely was out coached late in the run and the problems with this team were evident in that run. With a whole offseason and a whole regular season to fix the issues, he didn’t (nor did the GMs help him). Now here we are on the brink of elimination. Haven’t scored a PP goal since Moses was in junior hockey. Top six haven’t scored crap. Passing looks desperate and sad with constant bobbled pucks or errant passes. PDB needs to fix this team in the off season or if he can’t or isn’t sure how, he needs the boot. The PP is lame. I am not a hockey x’s and o’s guy, but the eye test (and results) says it’s dog shit. On the off chance you actually make the cross ice pass you have tried over and over for, guys like Pietro will try to gather the puck instead of one time it, giving the goalie time to move in place. The open net gone. Just ugly stuff. Regardless, of the fan beat down I feel, I am on pins and needles just waiting for game 6 to start. We need a win, we need some puck luck, we need some focus, we need some actual coaching and adjustment, and we need some player commitment. I don’t want this to be over. I haven’t missed a game this season and I don’t want it to stop now. We need another comeback. Go Knights!!

  15. Watching islanders tonight down 3-2 series down 2-0. Game. They came back i give them all credit in world
    Talks cheap performance is what madders lets get it done VGK

  16. As much as the Canadiens are “dominating” the Golden Knights… If it weren’t for one play, The Knights would be leading this series. Stop the Canadiens “dominating” VGK talk. It’s in the imagination of the hockey media. The Knights know what they need to do… Go Knights Go!

  17. knights fan in minny

    show some balls tonight vegas

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