Part of being a man is admitting when you’re wrong. When I first started here at The Hockey Writers, I asked myself what would be the best way to garner the most views and comments on my first article for the website. After a couple of minutes of deep thought, I decided on outlining why I believed the Vegas Golden Knights were going to win it all this year. In my mind, it made sense; they had not one but two all-star goaltenders. They had offensive powerhouses in Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, and William Karlsson on the roster. Finally, they had just signed Alex Pietrangelo, who was a year removed from captaining the St. Louis Blues to a Stanley Cup.
Last night, the Golden Knights did not help out my argument at all. They came out flat, unmotivated, and just looked like they had had enough of this series; not something you want to see out of a team who has a chance to make it to the Stanley Cup Final. In this article, I am going to go over three takeaways from the Golden Knights Game 5 loss to the Montreal Canadiens & how they can fix their mistakes heading into Game 6.
Not Enough Net-Front Presence
In the Golden Knights’ last series, I made a point of mentioning how the only way to beat Colorado Avalanche goaltender Phillip Grubauer was to screen him, cause traffic in front of the net, and get pucks into the dirty areas of the front of the net. Well, if I said that about Grubauer, I want to echo it 10 times over about the Canadiens’ goalie Carey Price. He has been showing us why he is still one of the greatest goaltenders to ever lace them up. I do have to admit that during the regular season, I was convinced that the Price of old was officially gone and that there was no way he could reprise his award-winning play from 2014-15. As I said earlier, part of being a man is admitting when you’re wrong, and it’s safe to say that I was wrong about him. He has been lights-out in this playoffs, posting an 11-5 record so far, as well as a .933 save percentage and a 2.02 goals-against average.
Price is a goalie who, when given a clear view of the shot he is facing, is going to stop it 10 times out of 10. The only way to beat a goalie like him is to create havoc around the net. That means getting bodies to the front of the net, crashing the net, deflecting shots, and making him cross-crease to make his saves. Without this, it will be virtually impossible to score on him, as he has proven once again that he is one of the best goalies in the world.
From what I saw last night, Vegas looked tired and unwilling to head to the front of the net. There was one great chance by Stone, in which he corralled the puck from behind the net, walked through the crease in front of Price, and almost proceeded to slip it by him, but it ended up going wide. This was the only commendable scoring chance of the game. In my opinion, all the others never really tested him. There was that goal from Pacioretty in the third period, but the game was already out of hand at that point. Even when Pacioretty scored, instead of the Golden Knights sending pucks in and putting bodies in front of the net, they elected to go for their usual “cycle the puck and create a flashy scoring chance” type of play.
Heading into Game 6, the focus should be to get two men in front of the net, especially on power plays. The whole point of this is to make the lives of the defensemen harder, thus making Price’s life harder. The Canadiens have been attacking the net beautifully, and look at how it’s panning out for them: masterfully.
Good Face-off Percentage
It’s not all bad news for the Golden Knights though as they have consistently out-beaten the Canadiens on won face-offs. In Game 5, the Golden Knights held a 52% faceoff win percentage, with most of those wins coming from Karlsson and Tomas Nosek.
Karlsson has had a quiet series but has been on fire in the circle, posting an 83% winning percentage. Aside from that, the Sweden native has been quiet offensively, having foregone significant contributions in this series. If I wasn’t a Vegas fan, I would have completely forgotten that he occupied a spot on the roster. One way he could improve his chances of scoring is by using his speed more and letting off those quick snapshots which he is great at. He hasn’t looked the most confident as of recently, but if he sticks to those two basics, I’m sure he can figure something out.
Nosek held an even better winning percentage last night, going 88% in the faceoff circle. Just like his Swedish teammate, he hasn’t contributed to the offensive game either, mostly playing a defensive role with his fourth-line minutes. Right now, with the significant absence of presence from the stars of the team, this could be a chance for Nosek to prove his worth as a depth forward, step up to the opportunity at hand, and possibly earn himself a new contract once the season ends. The way he can do this is by sticking to his “gritty, hard-nosed” game and bringing pucks to the front of the net. Bring it to the crease and just jam away at it. Good things happen when you bring the puck to the net.
Depth Needs to Come Through
One of the main reasons the Golden Knights did so well during the regular season was their depth across the line-up. This meant that when the star players had off-nights, the depth players would step up, play superbly, and contribute heavily to a win. Well, in this series the stars are not playing well whatsoever, but that also goes for the depth players as well.
Players such as Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, Karlsson, and Mattias Janmark all need to do better when it comes to contributing to their team’s offensive output. So far, the player that gets the most love from me is Nicolas Roy, who has looked hungrier than most of his teammates all series long. Roy scored a huge goal in Game 4 to secure the win for his team and has played intensely all series long. Let’s hope his teammates use him as an example and hopefully light a fire that could propel them to forcing a Game 7.
Marchessault particularly needs to be better, as he has not been his usual “spit-fire” self in this series. His game is based on playing with speed and tenacity, something lacking from this Vegas side at the moment. If the Quebec native can find his game in time for tomorrow, I think the Golden Knights have a good shot at forcing a Game 7, which would take place on home ice.
Do or Die
Game 6 takes place at the raucous home of the Canadiens on June 24, which is also the date of the St.Jean Baptiste holiday in Quebec, a super huge occasion for French-Canadians. With this in mind, you can expect the crowd to be even more fired up than normal, as they will be celebrating a provincial holiday, that could serve as extra cheering power that the Habs can feed off of. As a Quebec native, I know for sure this is going to be one of the greatest games I will ever witness in my life.
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.