Shockingly, the Vegas Golden Knights find themselves in a 3-1 series hole after dropping Game Four to the Dallas Stars by a score of 2-1. Once again, they handily outshot their opponent, but we're unable to come away with the win.
A defenseman was the lone goal scorer for the Golden Knights, an occurrence that has become far too common for the club. Alec Martinez's PP goal gave the team some life, but ultimately their only production. There's no need to recap the full game, but there are a few big moments to highlight that could've changed the Golden Knights' fate. Instead they find themselves in a big, almost irreparable hole in the Western Conference Final.
Period, Time on Clock - Event
P1, 20:00 - Starting the fourth line....again
Pete DeBoer has made it clear, he wants Ryan Reaves in the lineup and when he's in the lineup, he wants his line out first. The only game the fourth line didn't get the start for the Golden Knights was during Reaves' one-game suspension. DeBoer likes the tone the line sets, the energy they play with, and credits them for being "ready to go an hour before game time".
This sentiment has its advantages and downfalls. He has coached against this strategy as the Head Coach of the Sharks, when Gerard Gallant deployed the fourth line to "set the tone". Those Golden Knights teams won games, they scored goals. This Golden Knights team is not scoring goals and every shift given to the fourth line, takes chances away from they guys who should be.
Recently, this team has shown a need, a burning desire to play physically. It's always been a part of the Golden Knights' winning formula, but not to the extent it is now. Putting so much emphasis on the Reaves philosophy seems to be taking away from the team's offensive output. They've improved their roster, on paper, yet aren't the offensive juggernauts they once were. While it could be system related, there's something deeper at play. Five-foot-nine (on skates) Jonathan Marchessault has even been quoted as saying the physical play starts with a guy like him.
His playoff output: 19 Games, 3 goals, 7 assists, 10 points.
P1, 14:14 - Stastny - Stone PK 2-on-1
It looked like the Golden Knights would get the jump they needed early on when Paul Stastny and Mark Stone found themselves on a shorthanded 2-on-1 rush, with John Klingberg. Yes, Klingberg is arguably the second-best defenseman on the Stars' roster, but Stastny has been a top forward in the NHL for over a decade and Stone is a consensus Top-20 player. That duo needs to capitalize on their chances.
Stastny carried the puck into the Stars zone, waiting for Klingberg to make a move. The defenseman outwaited Stastny, who felt he couldn't get a pass around/over the d-man to Stone who was on his strong side. Stastny takes the shot, at a hot goalie, and he was promptly stopped. For as good as Stastny is, he's not an overpowering shooter and Khudobin has picked up the Golden Knights where Thatcher Demko (Canucks) left off.
P2, 12:22 - Pacioretty misses open net
Although it's a unit that has been struggling to find consistency, the VGK PP has created big moments of High Danger pressure. Game Four was no different where they had multiple opportunities to score and came up empty far too often. The most egregious miss came off the stick of their most prolific goal scorer Max Pacioretty.
After some intense pressure coming at Khudobin, Stastny found a loose puck and smoked it off the near-side post. Eventually the puck made its way to Pacioretty on the far side with a wide open goal, as Khudobin lunged for the initial Stastny attempt. Pacioretty scorched a wrist shot, well wide of the gaping net and appropriately screamed at himself in disgust. It was a huge moment, with the score tied at zero and he knew it. Fortunately, Martinez scored on the next shift.
P2, 8:28 - Pavelski backhand goal
Many will blame Nate Schmidt for this goal against. Others will look to the man in net. In a game where root causes are imperative and sometimes hard to see, looking deeper into the play reveals a bigger mistake than either of those two may have made.
A man who rarely makes mistakes, Stone sent a pass coming out of a board battle, back into his own slot, directly in front of Lehner. The pass was rushed and not perfect, into Schmidt's skates. By the time he kicked the puck to his stick and looked to move it, the Stars were on top of the mobile defenseman.
They promptly stole the puck and Joe Pavelski found paydirt with a backhanded attempt, despite Schmidt's recovery and stick check. The contact with Schmidt took a lot off of the attempt, but the fluttering puck made it past Lehner, in the top corner, a perfect location. A safer play for Stone would've been sending the puck up the boards. Worst case scenario is a turnover at the blue line, where the team defense could reset and recover. By sending the puck in front of his own goal, he set Schmidt and Lehner up for failure. A rare misstep for a bona fide star.
P3, 5:54 - Long 5-on-3 PP, no goals
Late in the game, trailing a goal, the Golden Knights had a gift given to them by the irresponsible Dallas Stars. With the score at 2-1 in the Stars' favor, the Golden Knights had the opportunity of a lifetime with a rare 5-on-3 advantage late in a crucial game. The Pacioretty PP unit had a few good looks, but we're unable to beat the red-hot Khudobin.
In their own end, the Golden Knights fell victim to a few big mistakes. Although the defense has been largely effective, they have been prone to momentary lapses. Lehner has been less-than-active in these losses, but has made game-saving stops despite the inactivity. There's been one or two he'd like back, but goaltending has not been the problem.
Unless these Golden Knights rediscover their scoring ability, they will be watching a Stanley Cup Final for the skies, featuring the Stars and Lightning. Aside from Alex Tuch, who has topped his regular season goal total, they've yet to get big offensive performances out of their forwards. No matter how good he is, a third-liner can't be the leading goal scorer. There are a lot of dollars, producing little results.
If anyone can overcome a 3-1 hole, it's DeBoer and the Golden Knights. They've shown resiliency before and questionable play doesn't change the fact that their locker room is loaded with talent. Once that spark ignites and the switch hits, this club could be off to the races. Fingers crossed, it happens Monday evening.
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