The Vegas Golden Knights entered Game 2 against their arch-rival Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night looking to even the series at 1-1. Unfortunately, the Golden Knights threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Avalanche and still lost in overtime. Here’s a look at what went wrong last night.
Poor Defensive Play
During Game 2, I kept asking myself what happened to the Golden Knights’ defensive strategies from the regular season? The Avalanche forced Vegas to play their style, which meant the Golden Knights were playing catch-up for the first two periods, and thanks to Colorado’s speed, the Golden Knights often looked like they didn’t know what went past them.
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I’ll give credit where it’s due and say that Vegas did an excellent job of shutting down Nathan MacKinnon, who was held to one assist and three shots on goal. They did a superb job of taking away the middle from him and cutting off his skating angles so that he couldn’t pick up speed and burn them on the outside. If they continue to neutralize MacKinnon, the series could be a close one. If the Avalanche are a 550 horsepower Chevrolet Camaro then the Cole-Harbour, Nova Scotia native is the engine that makes it run. Time to shut that engine down.
If the Golden Knights are going to want to steal games in this series, they will have to clamp up on their defensive efforts. As we have seen so far, not much gets by Avalanche stalwart Phillip Grubauer and if the Golden Knights are going to want any chance to win, they are going to have to keep as many pucks out of the net as possible. That is the only way I see them taking a game in this tightly contested series.
Everything but the Kitchen Sink
I’ll say it again. The Golden Knights threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Avalanche last night. They finished with 41 shots last night, 16 more than their counterpart, and heavily outplayed the Avalanche in the last frame. So, if Vegas did everything right, including a 15-6 edge in shots in the third period, then why didn’t they come out on top? I have one name for you: Phillip Grubauer.
The German goalie was stellar, putting up a performance similar to that of the Montreal Canadiens’ Carey Price in Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. In that game, Price was unbeatable, as was Grubauer who stopped 39 of 41 shots last night in Colorado, many of which were spectacular saves that deserved applause. He finished the game with a .952 save percentage and has allowed only three goals in this series, which is impressive considering the Golden Knights were one of the highest-scoring teams in the regular season with a 3.39 goals-per-game average.
As we have seen, the Golden Knights are being stymied by Grubauer, and when that happens there is only one solution to beating him; deflections and bodies in front of the net. He is amazing at positioning himself and cutting off certain shooting angles, which also helps his amazing reflexes and lateral movement. The only way to beat a complete goaltender like him is to make sure he doesn’t get a clean look at where the puck is going once it leaves the stick of the opposing player. This can be done by getting two bodies in front or near the net to screen him and/or get a deflection. Right now, he is getting clean looks at all the Golden Knights scoring opportunities which will have to change if the Golden Knights want any chance of winning a game in this series.
I’d like to acknowledge a player who doesn’t get recognized as much as he should, but played lights out in Game 2: Reilly Smith. The Toronto, Ontario native was everywhere last night, skating like a man on a mission and creating lethal play after play.
Smith is one of the original Golden Knights from the inaugural season, and has been through all the ups and downs this team has seen in it’s short four year history. In my opinion one of the most underrated players in the Honda West Division, Smith possesses a certain ability to get open and create chances effortlessly. This can be attributed to two things he does extremely well; reading the play and speed adjustment. When I say speed adjustment, I am referring to Smith being able to alter the amount of speed he picks up depending what the play calls for. Most players only have one speed, like a bicycle without breaks. Smith in this case is a 10-speeder who can effortlessly shift gears for when the time calls for it.
Smith put those attributes on display for us last night, as he finished with a goal, two shots, three hits, and two blocks, all while ringing a couple of chances off the post and crossbar. He was the team’s juggernaut last night, and it was great to see a bottom-six player step up and provide some crucial offense. Let’s hope he continues to contribute, as the Golden Knights could use all the help they can get now that they’re down 0-2 in the series.
These two teams square off again on Friday night as the Golden Knights try to avoid going down 3-0 in the series. To get back on track, they need better performances from their star players Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, and Alex Pietrangelo, who have had subpar showings in the series, and will need to ramp it up in Game 3.
Michael Vidakis is a Montreal native who writes for the Vegas Golden Knights team here at The Hockey Writers. In his spare time, he enjoys the finer things in life such as Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, staring aimlessly outside windows and tangerines.