The Buffalo Sabres have the kicked “No Goal,” the Oakland Raiders have the “Tuck Rule,” and the English national soccer team has the “Hand of God.” Those moments will live forever for the fan bases of each respective team, and unfortunately three months ago the Golden Knights joined the club.
The controversial #NotAMajor call on Cody Eakin opened the door for the San Jose Sharks to recover from a 3-0 deficit to score four goals on a phantom five-minute penalty call. There’s no debating it, the call was wrong and without it, the Golden Knights would have won Game 7 and been off to the 2nd round of the playoffs.
But, as easy as it is to say that, it’s just as easy to say, “or they could have not allowed four goals inside of the same penalty kill.”
Understandably, Golden Knights fans are probably not rushing to the film room to take another look at exactly what happened, and admittedly I wasn’t either. But, after 88 days, it was finally time for me to figure out what the hell actually happened. How in the world did the Golden Knights, a team that had never allowed two goals on the same power play, a team that has killed penalties at an 81% clip, and a team who killed 26 of 29 (90%) in the series, allow FOUR on the same power play?
Let’s start from the top.
**For the sensitive and/or squeamish, I did my best to cut the clips as tightly as possible to avoid watching the puck go in the net and the celebration. You’re welcome.**
Goal #1 (0:06 of PK elapsed)
Paul Stastny loses a draw clean to Tomas Hertl who wins it directly back to Erik Karlsson. However, the Golden Knights get into their penalty killing shape pretty quickly and take away any dangerous shot lane for Erik Karlsson. Nonetheless, Erik Karlsson rips a shot directly into the legs of Stastny and Hertl. It’s a terrible shot, it could have easily bounced somewhere else and Vegas cleared it, but, it didn’t. Instead, it bounced directly to a Shark. Stastny couldn’t find it quickly enough to stop the cross-ice pass. Then, the only line of defense is Deryk Engelland. He kneels down for a block, but Logan Couture shoots high. Marc-Andre Fleury never fully gets across. He’s made that save before and it would have been a hell of a save, but on that one, it snuck through.
Really, there’s no one to blame on this one. Maybe you can make the argument Engelland could have done more to block the shot. Maybe you can argue Fleury could have made the save. Both are fair, but harsh. For me, this is a bad bounce on a well-defended shot that leads to a team playing a man down looking like they are a man down.
Goal #2 (0:55 of PK elapsed)
This one starts well before the goal is actually scored. A sloppy draw leads to a Golden Knights clear by Engelland. William Karlsson does well to pressure Erik Karlsson under the Sharks goal. Erik Karlsson plays a poor pass into the corner and William Karlsson pressures the puck with help from Reilly Smith. Brayden McNabb creeps up almost all the way into the Golden Knights offensive zone when the puck is dug out by the Sharks and a breakout is beginning. Vegas is completely out of sorts and it leads to a simple entry. That entry sends Labanc carrying the puck down towards the corner. Willian Karlsson skates with him (arguably too far) until Labanc spins the puck back out off the wall to the point to Erik Karlsson.
Smith does incredibly well to rush out to the passing lane to take away the point-to-point pass and force the puck into traffic. However, William Karlsson gets fooled by Erik Karlsson’s shot-pass. He thinks it’s a shot, so instead of challenging the pass to Hertl which is eventually tipped into the goal, he turns his body to block the shot. Bad time for a bad read.
The blame here has to go on Karlsson. If he plays the pass, there’s no way that puck is tipped on. Both McNabb and Engelland are in pretty good position, there’s just nothing they can do, and Fleury has absolutely no chance.
There a legitimate argument that Gerard Gallant should have taken a timeout at this point. I vehemently disagree with the premise both from an in-the-moment view as well as while “Monday morning” coaching. First off, Gallant is on record saying he values a challenge more than a timeout. Thus, still leading 3-2, Gallant is aware that another goal must be scored in order for his team to lose. If that goal is scored and needs to be challenged, he must have a timeout to initiate the challenge. 90 seconds of “calm down time” is not nearly as valuable as potentially removing the game-tying goal from the scoreboard in the 3rd period of Game 7.
Even looking at it now knowing the result, it still would have been a poor use of a timeout. The Golden Knights reacted well off the second goal. They got multiple clearances and even had the next best scoring chance, a 2-on-1 with William Karlsson and Reilly Smith (which we will get to). They rolled through multiple penalty killers including a nearly two-minute break for Engelland and McNabb as Jon Merrill and Nate Schmidt took a 1:47 shift. The third goal was scored 3:26 of real-time after the second one, do we really think an extra 90 seconds would have mattered? I don’t.
More Missed Calls
Following the 2nd goal the Golden Knights put out a penalty kill unit of Stone, Nosek, Schmidt, and Merrill with the shift starting with 9:51 left in the 3rd. With 9:26 remaining, Brent Burns clearly ices the puck on a dump-in. The refs ignore the call.
Burns does not gain the red line, the puck is shot in, and a Golden Knight is first to the dots. This is icing. This would have resulted in a stoppage of play, a line change of Stone and Nosek, and a draw in the Sharks defensive zone.
On this same dump-in, the puck is deflected off the wall by Tomas Nosek. Marcus Sorensen plays it down to himself using a high stick.
Once again, this would have resulted in a stoppage of play, a line change for Stone and Nosek, and a draw in the neutral zone just outside of the Golden Knights blue line.
Instead, neither call is made. Play continues for an extended period inside of the Vegas zone before the puck is finally pushed across the line but not down the ice. Nosek is able to change for Smith, but Stone is stuck on the ice. Nearly a minute later, but Golden Knights finally get another clearance to the neutral zone, allowing Stone, Schmidt, and Merrill to change. All three played 1:47 on their shift and none of the three returned to the ice prior to the fourth goal being scored.
Then, there’s the iffy one. Those two above are not even arguable, they are both clear infractions, and they are both missed by the linesmen. This one is close and honestly, it probably isn’t going to be called 9 out of 10 times. However, we’re three minutes in to a phantom five-minute major penalty call in which the road team has nearly blown a 3-2 lead. Refs are human and as much as we all hate them, they really don’t want to screw up a game. If there’s ever been a time for a “make-up” call, this would have been it.
Engelland makes a good stick check to free the puck to a breaking William Karlsson. Hertl reaches out and puts his stick into the legs of Karlsson slowing the break slightly. Again, believe me, I’m aware that I’m nitpicking, but by rule, this is a 2-minute penalty.
A player who does not have body position on his opponent, who uses his stick (either the blade or the shaft, including the butt-end of the shaft) to impede or prevent his opponent from moving freely on the ice shall be assessed a hooking penalty. -NHL Rulebook, Rule 56.1
A penalty here would have ended the power play and the teams would have played 4-on-4 for the next two minutes with the Golden Knights maintaining a 3-2 lead.
2-on-1 Shorthanded Chance
This might be the most devastating portion of the entire penalty kill for the Golden Knights. The same break that should have resulted in a penalty led to a 2-on-1 odd-man rush for William Karlsson and Reilly Smith. Burns is the defenseman and he plays it very well taking away the pass from Karlsson to Smith. So, Karlsson makes the right decision to shoot but he misses the net.
If that’s a goal, and in the two-year history of the Golden Knights in this same situation it often is, Vegas takes a 4-2 lead and is almost certainly headed to Colorado. But, he missed it and rimmed it almost all the way out of the zone. This miss also occurs about 35 seconds into Karlsson’s PK shift. If the goal is scored or even if there’s a stoppage, he goes off the ice for a change, instead, he must keep playing and a borderline ill-advised change leads to goal number three.
Goal #3 (3:39 of PK elapsed)
The play starts in the neutral zone with a terrific stick check by William Karlsson. He completely stops a rush and turns the play back towards the Sharks zone. Karlsson recognizes the play and opts for a line chance (his shift was :49 long). However, this leads to two problems. One, it sets up an easy zone entry for the Sharks as they are essentially playing 5-on-3. Two, it brings out Max Pacioretty.
Pacioretty played a total of 16:10 of penalty kill time over 66 games in the regular season. That’s approximately :14 seconds per game. In that time, he took a minor penalty, had a Corsi of 9.4% (the worst of any Golden Knight to play at least 10 minutes), and the Golden Knights allowed two goals. In the playoffs, Pacioretty had played :50 of penalty kill time in the first six games, with all of it coming as the penalty clock winded towards zero. In short, Pacioretty was not a penalty killer for the Golden Knights. However, Vegas was without Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (injury), Cody Eakin (ejected), and Stone had just taken a 1:47 long PK shift less than a minute earlier.
So, Pacioretty is thrust into an unfamiliar (with VGK, he used to kill a lot in Montreal) role killing a penalty, and it showed. Over the entire series, the Golden Knights killed penalties the same way in each of the seven games. They had certain tendencies, certain things they would allow, and certain things they would take away. Trust me, I watched all 29 of the previous Sharks power plays preparing to watch these 5 minutes. The one pass the Golden Knights consistently took away was the point-to-point pass along the blue line. If all else failed, that was the pass they didn’t want to allow. (In fact, if you go back to the second goal, Reilly Smith illustrates this perfectly and William Karlsson does it on the fourth one.)
Pacioretty hops on the ice, skates into the middle of the zone, then realizes he is supposed to be taking away that pass. He jumps up far too late, doesn’t stop the pass, and takes himself out of the play.
You can almost read his mind. “Oh crap, my job is to take away that pass.” But he’s too late, and the shot finds its way off a Golden Knights body and past Fleury. Unfortunate bounce, but the danger of the shot was so high because of the misplay.
But, before you go blaming Pacioretty, let’s back up a bit. This is Game 7, on the road, in a crazy environment, on a penalty that was bogus, after his team had allowed two goals, and he hadn’t seen the ice for over four minutes of game time and nearly 12 of real-time (the last he was on the ice was for the Eakin penalty). He hasn’t killed penalties much at all for this team, and he’s entering the play on a relatively poor change by Karlsson. It’s best to put players in positions to succeed, this was putting him in a position to fail, and that’s exactly what happened. Granted, what other choice did they have?
Following the third goal, Gallant took his timeout. The puck was dropped again about 1:56 of real-time following the goal. Really helpful, right? Well, keep reading, cause it wasn’t. (Yet another example of why it would have been even dumber to take it after the 2nd goal.)
Goal #4 (:52 of PK elapsed)
28 seconds after the faceoff, and 2:24 after the third goal, the Sharks scored again.
This one starts with a lost puck battle with McNabb and Engelland vs. Hertl and Meier. I have a hard time making a call on this one. So, you watch and see what you think. Should the Golden Knights have won this puck?
Honestly, I lean towards yes, Vegas should have this puck. Meier is taken down by McNabb and Engelland has a clear shot at it, but he’s stick checked by Meier and there’s no strength to get it to the corner. Instead, Meier wins it around the boards, and Fleury’s nightmare begins.
Up to this point, Fleury really hasn’t had much of a chance on any of the three goals. That changed on number four.
In defending a power play, because you have one fewer player than your opponent, it’s commonplace for teams to select a place on the ice that they are going to allow shots to come from. For the Golden Knights, in this series against the Sharks, this is the shot they were willing to allow. In the circle to Fleury’s left was a shot the Sharks were given over and over and over again in the previous 29 power plays. Not once, including the three PP goals the Sharks did score, was a goal scored on that shot. Until this one.
It starts with Fleury clearly being uncomfortable coming out to challenge. You can see him peek over his shoulder to find the post. When he does come out, his angle is way off. He’s so far to his left that it leaves nearly half the goal for Labanc to shoot at.
You can make an argument that the screen coming from Meier threw him off, but as you can see in the picture the puck is off Labanc’s stick before the screen ever arrives. This is simply a poor goal to allow by Fleury. The penalty killers do absolutely everything right to force the puck into what they’ve deemed the safest place and the goalie doesn’t stop it.
None of the four goals were even close to goalie interference. Vegas also used their timeout after the third Sharks goal, so even if it was close on the fourth one, they were not in a position to challenge.
- Stastny: 1 for 3
- Karlsson: 1 for 2
- Nosek: 0 for 1
- Fleury: 4
- Jones: 1
- Nosek: 1
- Merrill: 1
- Missed Shots
- Kane: 1
- Nyquist: 1
- Burns: 1
- Giveaways: 2
- Takeaways: 2
- Players on ice for goals
- Engelland: 4
- McNabb: 4
- Smith: 2
- Karlsson: 2
- Stastny: 1
- Stone: 1
- Pacioretty: 1
- Nosek: 1
All of it took the Golden Knights from being up by three with 10:47 left in the game to down by one with 5:47 remaining. It will forever remain a nightmare that will haunt the Vegas franchise forever.
But, looking back, it was not a case of five minutes of horrendous penalty killing. Nor was not a case of terrible goaltending. Instead, it was a case of a team being placed in a horrendous situation, a few bad bounces, and a couple of minor mistakes.
Yes, the Golden Knights could have done better. There’s never an excuse to allow four goals on the same power play. But to blame the head coach, Deryk Engelland, or even Marc-Andre Fleury feels almost ignorant. There’s really only one thing you can say, and I’ll leave it to Cody Eakin to say it.
It sucks. It sucks our season’s over. It sucks for them, it sucks for Pav(elski), it sucks for us, it sucked for the league, it sucked for the city. -Eakin