The Vegas Golden Knights had their three-game winning streak snapped after falling to the Los Angeles Kings in uncharacteristic fashion on Saturday, losing 5-1 and bringing their record to 27-13-2. This was the second straight loss to the Kings, giving them a 1-2-0 record against them this season with their final meeting coming in April, just two weeks before the regular season ends.
The Golden Knights got a major boost to their roster earlier this week after Jack Eichel and Paul Cotter returned to action in their 5-2 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and more good news would come in this game as Jonathan Marchessault slotted back into the lineup after missing six games with a lower-body injury.
This was Logan Thompson’s first start for Vegas after being named as the starting goaltender for the Pacific Division for the upcoming All-Star Game, which is taking place in Sunrise, Florida next month.
Despite being pulled for the first time this season after the conclusion of the second period, Thompson currently has a .915 save percentage (SV%) and leads all rookie goaltenders in wins with an 18-10-1 record, continuing to build his resume as one of the top contenders for the Calder Trophy.
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Looking at the Kings’ roster, one of the biggest challenges for the Golden Knights heading into this game would be the red-hot goaltending of Pheonix Copley. Copley has had more wins than any other goaltender in the NHL since his first appearance of the season on Dec. 6, putting together a 10-2-0 record and solidifying himself as the Kings’ starter for the time being (from ‘Poised goaltender Pheonix Copley is the surprise Christmas gift the Kings needed’, Los Angeles Times, 12/21/22).
Golden Knights Unable to Break Kings’ Defensive Structure
After a first period where the possession and offensive chances weighed heavily in favor of the Golden Knights, the Kings managed to dictate the pace through the remaining 40 minutes of the game. This was mostly due to their defense in the neutral zone and their ability to deny any second chances in front of their own net.
The second period was arguably the worst period that the Golden Knights have had throughout the entire season. On top of giving up a shorthanded goal, they struggled with making simple breakout passes, they weren’t able to drive to the inside of the offensive zone, and there was an overall lack of urgency in their game.
To the Kings’ credit, they played an extremely structured defensive game, which only made it more frustrating for the Golden Knights when they weren’t able to replicate the same type of offense they had in the first period. They hit the post three times, missed two open nets, and Reilly Smith wasn’t able to convert on a two-on-none. These are all chances that you would love to have to start the game, but the Kings managed to shut them down completely.
Head coach Bruce Cassidy seemingly tried everything to give his team a boost by shuffling the lines numerous times, swapping the goaltenders for the final period, and even pulling Adin Hill in the final minutes despite being down 4-0. Marchessault would eventually put a one-timer past Copley to avoid being shut out for the first time this season, but there was no time left to generate any momentum.
The Golden Knights tied their season-low in shots with 20, with the only other game coming against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Nov. 8, which was one they ended up winning in overtime. They’re clearly capable of winning games without putting up many shots, but outside of the opening period, the chances they had never put the Kings in a position where they felt in danger of being scored on.
These divisional games may not seem important at this time, but as the second half of the season progresses it will be crucial for the Golden Knights to find ways to counter a team as well-rounded as the Kings are. When considering the playoff implications that can result from not showing up in these moments, they need to remain consistent and control their own destiny.
With so many players coming in and out of the lineup due to injury over the past few days, it’s possible that the Golden Knights’ struggles could have come from a lack of consistency within their own roster. Their play against the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier this week felt much more inspired, likely due to Eichel and Cotter running on adrenaline after being out for so long. It’s definitely not an excuse, but it could be a big reason why their effort was so drastically different.
The good news is that the Golden Knights will have five days to regroup before they get back in action against the Florida Panthers on Thursday, Jan. 12, with a chance to get back in the win column.
Eric is a recent graduate of Toronto Metropolitan University’s Sport Media Program and is covering the Vegas Golden Knights with the Hockey Writers