Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018 | 11:29 p.m.
Many Golden Knights players spent this week relaxing during the team’s bye with family and friends, or vacationing together on a yacht in Cabo San Lucas.
They played like a team still recovering from the break on Saturday night in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Oilers.
It’s not a knock on the Golden Knights. They were required to stay away from the rink during their league-mandated bye week, and to say they earned some rest and relaxation with their play in the first half of the season is an understatement.
Even in the loss the Golden Knights earned a point, which extends their lead in the Pacific Division to eight points over the Los Angeles Kings, who lost to Anaheim on Saturday.
But they didn’t look like the same Golden Knights that went 18-2-0 at home prior to the break.
“Tonight was all about having five days off,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “We weren’t sharp, we didn’t do the right things and we didn’t play our typical game. We still played okay but we weren’t as sharp as we could have been.”
Edmonton took a 1-0 lead early in the second period when the puck bounced off Patrick Maroon’s skate and past goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
Vegas rallied with goals by Reilly Smith and William Karlsson to grab the 2-1 lead entering the third period, but a goal by Drake Caggiula would send the game to overtime. Defenseman Darnell Nurse got the first shot on goal of the extra period and beat Fleury to hand the Oilers the win.
“We were a little rusty there in the first but we eventually played our game and just didn’t get the ending we wanted,” Vegas’ William Carrier said.
The Oilers are the only team to beat the Golden Knights twice in a season.
“I thought they played well,” Gallant said. “They played a hard game and Edmonton is fighting. They are doing the right things and they have (Connor) McDavid, who is fun to watch when you aren’t playing against him.”
McDavid had two assists for the Oilers and the Golden Knights against struggled on the power play.
Vegas was 0-for-6 on the power play, making them 0-for-10 on the power play this season against the Oilers dating back to the first meeting on Nov. 14., despite Edmonton having the 31st-ranked penalty kill in the NHL. The Golden Knights have only scored one goal with a man advantage in their last nine games and are 1-for-23 (4.3 percent) during that span.
“When they don’t get their looks and they don’t get shots early they get a little frustrated, and that’s what happened tonight,” Gallant said. “Am I worried about it? No. We’ll have practice tomorrow and get back to it but some of the bad things we did tonight were from the layoff.”
The Oilers were clearly the sharper team Saturday night. It was their second game of a back-to-back and their fourth game this week. Meanwhile, the Golden Knights enjoyed their day off, and had only one day of practice to get back into a rhythm.
Gallant and his staff tried their best, breaking Friday’s practice into halves and having the zamboni refresh the ice in between to simulate two practices. The practice stretched well over an hour while the average practice this season has only gone about 45 minutes.
“There’s nothing I could have changed,” Gallant said. “I can’t skate them for six hours.”
“It’s easy to say the team is rested and ready to jump, but when you have five days (off) it’s tough to get going,” Gallant said. “They’re pro players and they get into their routine of being on the ice almost every day. On the odd time you’ll get a day off but not too often you get those four days so I’m just happy we got a point tonight. We would have loved two (points) but we didn’t get it.”
It’s a long season, and while the bye week negatively affected the Golden Knights’ performance against the Oilers, Gallant can see the positives in the break.
“In the long run it’s going to be good for the team,” he said. “It’s good for all the teams. It’s the way it is, the way it works. It’s a good thing because the players need that break during the season but it’s tough coming back for that first game. After that it’s going to be good for your team.”
The week allowed them to heal up, nurse any minor nagging wounds and attack the second half of the season injury-free, except maybe the sunburn from the boat trip in Mexico.