Frankly, the Golden Knights, David Perron included, were bad in the middle frame. The players themselves admitted that they deserved to lose. I don't want those facts to be lost, as I moon over this play.
What stands out here is Perron's patience in the neutral zone and how he toys with Charlie Coyle's passive forecheck. How often do you see a player slow down in that area -- then go wing to wing and hit the target, Colin Miller in this case, in stride? It appears as if Perron lulled both Coyle and Zucker to sleep with his deliberate pace.
This was pure magnificence, even if it came far too late.
This Matt Dumba goal, which made it 3-0, was the dagger.
A couple things stand out here. First, the Brayden McNabb pinch. It was not hard-hitting, to say the least, and left McNabb in no man's land, then Nate Schmidt on an island.
There's an argument that Vegas, which has fallen behind often recently, has been pressing to catch up -- basically, four or five Knights have been so focused on creating offense, they've neglected their defensive responsibilities. Obviously, the unsuccessful McNabb pinch led directly to an odd-man rush against. Here's an example of this from the 8-3 loss to the Devils:
Marc-Andre Fleury noted, "I don't know if we're trying to play more offensive at home. Because on the road, I think we play the right way, maybe a little more patient. Simple, I'd say."
The Knights did go 4-1 on their recent road trip.
While Gallant did not agree that Vegas has been overemphasizing offense at home, he gave a nuanced answer about the last two second periods against New Jersey and Minnesota.
When our defense plays hard and pinch hard and forecheck as a five-man unit, it works real well. It’s been a big part of our game all year.
Now tonight like you said, I agree with you a hundred percent, exactly what happened. We got caught a couple times pinching down and we didn’t have the reload from our forwards and we gave up some odd-man rushes.
I want our guys to be aggressive. I want us to play with that style but when you’re a little bit slow, and when you’re not backing up your defensemen when they go down, it’s going to cost you and it cost us tonight.
But I don’t want us to change.
I also 100% agree. Vegas is a bit slow and a little short right now -- but McNabb needs to stay aggressive, stay the course with the team's style of play. That same aggressiveness has earned them the Pacific lead.
Of course, there's a time for him to be cautious too, especially with his foot speed. A forward, if they see McNabb pinching, needs to hustle to cover for him.
This is the second thing which stood out to me about this sequence.
Mistakes happen, especially when you're aggressive, but that doesn't mean you can't erase your mistakes. The Golden Knights had chances to recover from initial mistakes, and generally, failed at this last night.
For example, after McNabb's half-hearted pinch, Zucker and Eric Staal went on a 2-on-1. Schmidt's sprawl actually forces a Zucker pass into a very difficult scoring angle for Staal. Staal goes wide. All good, right?
But then, the backchecking William Karlsson overskates Dumba and is on the wrong side of Zucker's pass back to the front. If Karlsson goes inside of Dumba, perhaps he ties up the encroaching defender's stick.
I don't want to be too hard on Karlsson here. He worked his ass off to get back, and frankly, it's a fire drill after the McNabb pinch -- emphasizing McNabb's mistake over any other is reasonable.
But how you respond under the most extreme duress counts; it's the difference between champion and contender, between contender and pretender.
On the Coyle strike which put the Knights down 2-0, the first big mistake was Miller's on the breakout.
The referee's feet didn't help -- though what footwork! -- but that's a flat-out turnover. Credit to the Wild for being right on top of Miller, Ryan Carpenter, and Miller's other breakout options. It looks like Miller wants Alex Tuch for the long bomb, but nope.
Zucker observed, "We’re trying to not let them skate. They’re a fast team, they move pucks well and they make plays. So if you take away their legs and don’t let them skate it is going to be hard for them to make plays.
"Just try to get in their face and not let them make the plays they want to make."
But going back to the point about recovering from your mistakes:
Watch Tuch in the slot -- granted, a sliding Miller distracts him -- but when do his eyes move away from the puck and onto the late man Coyle? His reach can't make up for the split-second delay, and Coyle backhands it past Fleury.
Like the scramble during the Dumba goal, it's a panic situation. But navigating such a storm both efficiently and quickly -- that's the difference between an AHL'er and an NHL'er, between a solid two-way guy and a Selke nominee. You can press defensively too.
Here's an example of Vegas defending decently on their heels:
A little bit of fortune -- Jon Merrill gets a back leg on Matt Cullen's bid from the slot. It's a big block, regardless.
Then Theodore anticipates Cullen's pass from behind the net to Coyle, doesn't allow for a clean reception. Theodore then smothers an attacking Coyle, Coyle coughs it up, and it's an easy clear for Neal.
There was a lot of talking between the Golden Knights last night -- during the second intermission, Fleury revealed that the coaching staff had a "good talk" with them -- after the game, Haula revealed that the team held a brief meeting.
The team knows that something is wrong -- will they start to right the ship this Sunday against the falling, flailing Flames?
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