Game 2 was another wild ride for the Vegas Golden Knights. Although they ended up losing 3-2, it was one of the most entertaining games the team has played in its short existence. Much like Game 1, it was a back-and-forth affair for all 60 minutes, with lead changes and momentum swings in full force.
Although the Washington Capitals took the lead early into the second period, the third period was all Vegas as they led 15-6 in shots. Alex Tuch came as close as one can get to tying the game up at 3-3, but Braden Holtby’s magnificent stick save with two minutes left in the game preserved a Washington win.
Nosek, Reaves Make Big Impact
Part of the intrigue during the first two games of this Stanley Cup Final series is how well the depth players on both teams have played. Vegas and Washington have gotten key contributions from players they have not had to rely upon in the past. Tomas Nosek and Ryan Reaves on the Vegas fourth line willed the team’s comeback win in Game 1, while Brooks Orpik and Lars Eller provided the offense for the winning Capitals in Game 2. Orpik, by the way, had gone 220 games without scoring a single goal.
Steady contribution from these kinds of players is what wins a game late in the playoffs, and Vegas is happy in that regard so far. Down 4-3 early in the third period on Monday, their fourth line showed heart. A goal from Reaves on the doorstep of the crease tied the game up at 4-4 only 1:31 after the Capitals had taken the lead. During the regular season, Reaves had only scored four goals, all with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Later in the third period with the fourth line out yet again, Shea Theodore threw a fantastic cross-ice pass to Nosek, who tapped it in to give Vegas the lead. Nosek then finished the game off with an empty-netter.
Even outside the goal-scorers, the Golden Knights’ depth players made themselves known. Deryk Engelland had two assists in Game 1, his only points of these playoffs. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare also added an assist, but more importantly, drove a fourth line that dominated shifts when on the ice. Vegas’s fourth line had better possession numbers than any other line on either team. They were able to double the shot attempts from their adversary line of Devante Smith-Pelly, Jay Beagle, and Chandler Stephenson.
Tide Turns on Golden Knights
In Game 2, the depth swung in the way of the Capitals with the previously mentioned Orpik goal and a three-point night for Eller. However, the third defensive pairing of Colin Miller and Luca Sbisa had a noticeable effect on the game. Miller got increased ice time due to the number of power plays Vegas received and got four shots on net, good for second on the team. Both players were credited with an assist on the opening goal by James Neal, but it was Sbisa’s flip pass through the neutral zone that made that goal possible.
Unfortunately for the Golden Knights, not everyone in the lineup has clicked through the first two games of the Cup Final. Cody Eakin has had more than a couple of shaky games in the playoffs and David Perron has been rather invisible, with neither having registered a point since Game 6 against the San Jose Sharks. If Vegas’s top two lines continue to be outscored by the Capitals, the third line is going to have to get on the scoreboard. This is especially true due to Evgeny Kuznetsov’s injury. With Eller most likely moved up the lineup, the third line of Vegas is going to have a weaker matchup.
A player who has surprisingly struggled in the first two games is Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. In both games, Fleury ended with a save percentage under .900 after having only been under that mark twice before in the playoffs this year. Not too many of the goals have been directly his fault despite the stats, as the Capitals’ offense has been able to find an open spot on the ice away from Vegas defenders like no other team they have faced thus far.
No Reason to Panic in Vegas Yet
Vegas may have lost its home-ice advantage, but they have been in this situation before and prevailed. Against the Sharks, they lost Game 2 at home in double overtime but were still able to win the series in six games. The Golden Knights are 6-2 in away games, meaning they have a good chance of taking one of the games in Washington.
Judging by the nature of the series thus far, it is difficult to predict what Game 3 will look like. The series has already had a back-and-forth offensive battle and a low-scoring, goalie showdown, so anything can happen. Whatever the energy of the game is, Vegas needs its depth players to continue winning the battles and contributing to the scoresheet. If the Capitals sustain any more injuries, the Golden Knights’ depth will be the key to winning a Stanley Cup in their inaugural season.
Mike was born and raised a big hockey fan. He is a recent Sports Management graduate from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and is now a writer for the Vegas Golden Knights. More of his work can be found at https://michaelmanleyahs.wixsite.com/mysite/work-samples.