Golden Knights Upstaged by Elvis on the Vegas Strip

Rookie Elvis Merzlikins made 27 saves to record his first NHL shutout as the Columbus Blue Jackets sent the Vegas Golden Knights to their third straight home loss, 3-0.

What started off as a bang of a seven-game home stand with the Golden Knights going 4-0 with wins over the Arizona Coyotes, Philadelphia Flyers, Anaheim Ducks and St Louis Blues, ended on a whimper with losses to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings and Blue Jackets.

What is more troubling for the Golden Knights than just the losses, and not getting valuable points on their longest homestand of the season, is that they continued the very disturbing trend of falling behind and having to chase the game. In the last four games, the Golden Knights have fallen behind by three goals three times and four goals once, to the lowly cellar-dwelling Kings.

The 11 goals allowed now gives the Golden Knights the dubious distinction of allowing the most first-period goals in the NHL. Their record in those games is 1-3. There are only so many points that a team can afford to giveaway during the season before it could cause a severe problem. The Golden Knights have maxed out that quota for this season.

Elvis Merzlikins Columbus Blue Jackets
Elvis Merzlikins, Columbus Blue Jackets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In Saturday night’s game, the Golden Knights started “on time,” and for the first 10 minutes carried the play to a Blue Jackets team with nine regular players on injured reserve, including their top scorer and No. 1 goalie, plus nine players with less than 50 games in the NHL. But then a couple of penalties led to a Blue Jackets power-play goal and it was all downhill from there. The Jackets added a goal in each of the final two periods to make the final 3-0.

The story of the game wasn’t the score. It was how and why the Golden Knights lost. There was a complete lack of effort in the game. They looked slow, out of sorts, without energy, and completely unfocused for the last 50 minutes. They had very few high-danger scoring chances and virtually no sustained offensive zone pressure. Columbus owned the middle of the ice, especially in their defensive zone, making Merzlikins’ night at The Fortress about as easy as it could get.

Disturbing Trend Continues

“We didn’t create anything tonight. We didn’t compete hard enough. I didn’t like that there was no contact tonight. It was a soft game and we have to play harder than that.”

Vegas Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant

With a comment like that from the head coach coming on the heels of the Golden Knights’ worst game of the season against the Kings, there is something bad brewing if they don’t right the ship quickly.

What’s Going Wrong?

It’s tough to pinpoint exactly why the wheels came off the Golden Knights so quickly after an outstanding December and a huge comeback versus the Stanley Cup champion Blues. Two key injuries up front, Cody Glass and, more recently, the conscience and soul of the team, Jonathan Marchessault, have forced Gallant to fire up the line blender.

Jonathan Marchessault Vegas Golden Knights
Jonathan Marchessault, Vegas Golden Knights (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The forward lines’ chemistry has suffered mightily. Maybe the Golden Knights just had a little too much home cooking with seven straight games at the Fortress. Whatever is going on, it has to stop, and fast, or the Golden Knights are in danger of slipping out of a playoff spot in the highly-competitive Pacific Division.

Is the Road the Cure?

The best thing for them right now might be a nice long road trip. A time where it’s just the guys in the room together and bonding. And a time to get back to basics and return to playing the style of Golden Knights hockey that the fanbase has become accustomed to. Low and behold, that is exactly what the schedule maker has in store. They head out to begin an eight-game road trip (separated by the All-Star break) against the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night. It couldn’t have happened at a better time, if you ask me, however, only time will tell.