Vegas Loses Game and Erik Haula in Toronto
By: Jeff Paul
Vegas continues its streak of bad luck with injuries. It is not even a quarter of the way into the season and Vegas has already lost Alex Tuch, Cody Eakin, Paul Stastny, Max Pacioretty, and Deryk Engelland to injury at some point. On the very night Pacioretty returned to the lineup, the injury bug claimed another casualty in Golden Knight center, Erik Haula.
Vegas found out early in the first period, just how good the Maple Leafs can be, even without superstar Auston Matthews. The Leafs still have plenty of talent up front in John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and Kasperi Kapanen. Kapanen’s speed is truly impressive to watch.
The Maple Leafs struck first in this one, taking a 1-0 lead at 5:30 of the first period, on a Conor Brown unassisted goal. A broken play from the start saw the puck end up on the stick of Vegas defenseman Nick Holden in the high slot. Holden took Brown’s positioning behind him for granted as he cut off the Maple Leafs’ cross-ice pass. Brown made a great individual effort, stealing the puck from Holden and in one motion, flinging a shot on goal, past Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Holden was stripped by Brown almost immediately after receiving the puck and there is very little he could have done to avoid the result. Fleury needed to come up with the save and was simply beat.
Vegas would go on to outshoot Toronto 13 to 8 in the period yet ended the first 20 minutes behind on the scoreboard, a common theme early on this season. Toronto stretched their lead to two just nine seconds into the second period. Marner received the pass from Tavares coming into the Vegas zone and sniped a wrist shot, far-side past Fleury’s blocker. The shot was impressive, but it is certainly a save Fleury would expect himself to make. Fleury had eyes on the shot and was simply beat to the punch.
Vegas eventually got on the scoreboard at 11:22 of the period, courtesy of Cody Eakin and Shea Theodore. Theodore sent a shot toward the Maple Leaf net that beat Frederik Andersen and hit the post. Theodore ended up with the puck again and once again put it on net. This time, Eakin was able to put a stick on the puck, scoring on the redirection. The play displayed great hand-eye from Eakin and gave Vegas some hope. Although they built some momentum, Vegas was unable to even up the score and the period ended with a 2-1 score.
Andersen made a number of key saves to stifle the Vegas attack. Once again Vegas was active, outshooting Toronto 16-8 in the period, 29-16 overall after two periods of play. Vegas controlled play in the second, highlighted by their 75.5% Corsi For % in the period. Such a disparity in CF% shows Vegas’ complete dominance in play driving and shot creation over the Maple Leafs.
The Golden Knights seemed to be on the upswing and all they needed was a bounce to go their way in the third to tie the game up. Unfortunately, the third period would not be their saving grace. All the third period brought to the Vegas Golden Knights was the unwanted feeling of déjà vu.
Haula was injured five minutes into the third period. As Haula carried the puck up the ice, he was pursued by Maple Leaf winger Patrick Marleau. Once Haula gained the red line, he dumped the puck into the Toronto zone and Marleau checked him into the boards, a standard play to say the least.
Haula was injured when his right leg got caught underneath him on the way down to the ice. The way in which his knee was trapped as he fell is consistent with knee ligament injuries. Haula remained on the ice, screaming in pain for approximately five minutes and was eventually taken off the ice on a stretcher.
After the game Marleau was quoted as saying “It seemed like a normal hit, I was rubbing him out after he dumped the puck in and I turned to go to the bench and I heard the whistle go after that, turned around and he was on the ice. I just hope he’s ok.”
A guy that has been in the league as long as Marleau, with 1,590 games played, rarely wants to see an injury occur. Marleau visibly showed concern for Haula after the play, from the Maple Leafs bench. Hockey is a rough game and injuries are bound to happen. Marleau did nothing wrong on the play and it is just an unfortunate circumstance for Haula and the Golden Knights.
Following the injury to Haula, a once back-and-forth exciting game, slowed considerably. Neither team would score until the Maple Leafs’ Nazem Kadri tallied an empty-netter with 35 seconds remaining in the game. With the 3-1 loss on the books, Vegas slides to a record of 6-8-1 with the loss.
In order to improve, Vegas needs to figure out their power play woes, as they went 0 for 3 in this game and sit at a league worst 11.8%. Last season, the power play was a healthy source of goal scoring for the Golden Knights (21.4%, 10th in NHL). Personnel changes and injuries have affected the power play. Last season’s PP included defenseman Nate Schmidt (suspension) and UFA departures James Neal and David Perron.
Oscar Lindberg, who has been the 13th forward, would be the first man up in Haula’s absence. Lindberg can play the center or wing and has spent time with the 2nd and 3rd lines in limited time this season. Tomas Nosek and Eakin are also candidates to slide into the vacated 2nd line center role.
The Golden Knights’ next game comes Thursday evening, versus the Ottawa Senators, a team currently mired in controversy. Several key Ottawa players were shown talking negatively about their team and certain coaches in a video taken from an Uber ride. Over the past day, the players seen in the video have been doing damage control. Vegas should see this as an opportunity to get back to their winning ways, while Ottawa may not be operating at optimal efficiency.
Whatever Vegas does, they need to get Lady Luck back on their side. In Vegas they have the saying, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”, but the injuries and losses have a funny way of tracking them down on the road. Tuesday night’s game in Toronto is just another installment of the disappointing and tumultuous start to the 2018 season for the Vegas Golden Knights.
Stats courtesy of NHL.com and NaturalStatTrick.com