The Vegas Golden Knights lost their second straight game after giving up a 2-1 lead in the third period to the New Jersey Devils and losing in overtime, bringing their record to 29-17-3 on the season. They now sit just one point ahead of the Los Angeles Kings for first place in the Pacific Division.
The Golden Knights are 1-4-1 over their last six games and are now 4-5-1 to start 2023, while also sitting 26th in the NHL in goals-for-per-game (GF/GP) since the new year started.
As for some positive news for the Golden Knights, Brett Howden joined the lineup for the first time since Nov. 25 after suffering from a lower-body injury. William Carrier’s status was also updated to being day-to-day, making it likely that he will return later this week. This means that the team is down to just three roster players left on the injury reserve in Mark Stone, Shea Theodore, and Zach Whitecloud.
The Devils have taken the league by storm this season, entering this game sitting second in the Metropolitan Division and fourth in the league standings while going 7-1-2 over their last 10 games. They have already won more games than they did throughout the entire 2021-22 season, largely due to the breakout season of recently named All-Star Jack Hughes.
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Hughes is 10th in the NHL in points with 58 through 46 games played and is sixth in goals with 30, solidifying himself as one of the most dynamic offensive players in the league this season. Goaltender Vitek Vanecek has also been a huge factor in the Devils’ success, putting together a 19-5-2 record with a .916 save percentage (SV%).
Golden Knights’ Offensive Adjustments
After the Golden Knights found themselves down 1-0 after a lifeless opening period of play, head coach Bruce Cassidy made some significant changes to the offensive lines. Jack Eichel was put on a line with Nicolas Roy and Paul Cotter, and Phil Kessel was placed alongside Chandler Stephenson and Michael Amadio.
These changes paved the way for the Golden Knights to rebound for the remaining 40 minutes of play. The Stephenson line was by far the best throughout the second period and dominated the puck possession time whenever they were on the ice. They did a great job of cycling in the offensive zone by constantly moving and giving the Devils no time to anticipate their passes.
As for this line’s defensive play, Kessel and Amadio did a great job of denying zone entries from the Devils and forcing them to dump the puck in. This allowed for Stephenson to transition with speed and let him be a lot more effective as the primary puck carrier and distributor, with his linemates getting more time away from the puck to find open ice.
However, there was still a lot left to be desired from the rest of the offensive core. The ‘Misfits’ line of Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, and William Karlsson had brief moments of success but played most of the game in their own zone, and Eichel’s line looked pretty much invisible for most of the night.
Golden Knights’ Passive Power Play
Aside from the minor improvements on offense, which could benefit them in the long run, what proved to be the deciding factor in this loss was the Golden Knights’ lack of execution on the power play.
Golden Knights’ All-Star goaltender Logan Thompson played his best game in a long time, making 33 saves and finishing with a .916 SV%. Both goals he let in during regulation time came from deflections off of defensemen, giving him no time to react to the pucks that were being redirected. He gave them a chance to close this game out, and things could’ve been a lot worse without him.
After missing out on their first two opportunities on the power play earlier in the game, the Golden Knights had an opportunity to extend their 2-1 lead with a power play in the final 10 minutes and came out completely flat once again.
There was no urgency to shoot the puck, and all of the players were standing still, making it very easy for the Devils to anticipate passes and keep the puck to the outside. For a team that needed a win as desperately as the Golden Knights did following their 4-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes, it felt like they were playing extremely scared and had no real intention of taking a risk in order to give themselves a bigger lead.
They finished the game 0/3 with the man advantage and have been operating at just 16 percent on the power play in the month of January. When playing a team as hot as the Devils are, it’s crucial for you to make the most of these opportunities, and the Golden Knights simply didn’t do that in this game.
There are only so many times that the Golden Knights are going to be able to use the excuse of injuries before they need to produce some results. While this was a significant improvement from their last game, there’s still a lot left to work on, and they are hanging on to that top spot in the Pacific Division by a thread.
With the trade deadline fast approaching and the Golden Knights being tight on cap space, there’s likely not going to be a trade that Kelly McCrimmon can make that is going to save this team the way he has attempted to in the past. It’s on the guys in the locker room right now to find ways to win with who they have.
The Golden Knights will get a few days off and continue their six-game road trip by taking a short ride down to New York to take on the Rangers and the Islanders in a back-to-back on Friday and Saturday.
Eric is a recent graduate of Toronto Metropolitan University’s Sport Media Program and is covering the Vegas Golden Knights with the Hockey Writers