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October 15, 2018

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Off the post and out of luck: Golden Knights come up short against Capitals

Capitals’ superstars take advantage of Golden Knights’ penalties, defensive breakdowns

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Nick Wass / AP

Golden Knights left wing Pierre-Edouard Bellemare shoots against Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson during a game Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, in Washington.

Marc-Andre Fleury is one of many superstitious goalies who tap the goal posts in appreciation whenever they prevent a puck from finding the net.

The Vegas Golden Knights probably wanted to demonstrate their feelings toward the posts in a different way Wednesday night at Capital One Arena. They probably wanted to tear them apart and bash them repeatedly against the ice.

Four Golden Knights’ shots deflected off the pipes, dooming them to a 5-2 loss to the Washington Capitals in a Stanley Cup Final rematch at the midpoint of their first road trip.

“Seems like we’ve had a few nights like that so far this season,” Fleury said. “For some reason, it’s just staying out of the net.”

Vegas will try to marginally adjust when it travels to Pittsburgh on Thursday to complete its first back-to-back of the season. Fleury, who expects not to play with backup Malcolm Subban slotted to start, says there’s a sense of urgency with Vegas sitting at 1-3-0 on the season.

But the loss to the Capitals was not received like the Golden Knights’ first two defeats, where coach Gerard Gallant noted there was “nothing” he liked from the games. Gallant was mostly complimentary of his team’s effort after they outpaced Washington 31-29 in shots on goal.

“You’ve got to get a little bit of puck luck, and when you get puck luck, you work hard and we’ve got to work harder,” Gallant said. “Overall, I thought tonight was a step in the positive direction.”

Gallant had to restructure his lineup after second-line center Paul Stastny was injured late in Monday’s loss at Buffalo to join Alex Tuch on injured reserve. An NBC Sports Network report indicated Stastny could be out for up to a month.

The Golden Knights also saw the return of Cody Eakin for the first time this season, however, and he might have been their best player on the ice. Eakin’s hustle put in motion the sequence that led to the first post-denial of the night, when Ryan Carpenter clanked one off early in the first period.

Eakin continued to play well, but the Washington Capitals scored a pair of goals — the first on a power play by Evgeny Kuznetsov and the second on a vintage Alexander Ovechkin one-timer — before he wrapped around to beat Braeden Holtby in the second period for the Golden Knights’ first goal.

“I thought we dictated for a long time,” Eakin said. “It was back and forth for a little bit, but we missed a couple assignments. If we can straighten some of those things out, we’ll be OK going forward.”

Defense remained problematic, but not from the much-maligned pairing of Nick Holden and Jon Merrill. The Golden Knights’ top two pairings let them down against the Capitals.

Colin Miller wound up on his knees after a Kuznetsov hesitation move set up Ovechkin’s first goal. In the third period, Kuznetsov and Ovechkin connected again for a goal by outracing Deryk Engelland and Shea Theodore for an odd-man rush.

It was a four-point night for Kuznetsov, who ensured Washington converted on two of its four power-play attempts. In addition to his own goal, he found Nicklas Backstrom in front of the net for an early third-period power play goal.

“We gave them too many power play chances,” Gallant said. “They’re going to make those plays. Their top guys are some of the best players in the world and they made good plays. That’s how they beat us.”

Reilly Smith cut down the slot two minutes after Backstrom’s score for his first goal of the season, cutting the Capitals’ lead to 3-2 with 13 minutes to play. The Golden Knights would never get any closer from there, with the posts seemingly conspiring against them.

Jonathan Marchessault stared in disbelief after he went off the post on a wide-open net, a high-percentage chance that would have tied the game prompted by a no-look backhanded pass from William Karlsson. Earlier, the connection had been flipped with Karlsson tipping a Marchessault shot past Holtby but into the red steel.

A Colin Miller slap shot similarly missed the net by mere inches with five minutes remaining, seconds after a Max Pacioretty goal was overturned on a challenge because of an offside infraction.

One of the defining moments of last year’s Stanley Cup Final was then-Golden Knight James Neal chiming a wide-open look off the pipe early in Game 4 in Washington. That was the last time Vegas played in Capital One Arena before Thursday in their only scheduled trip at the Capitals this year.

Missing so many opportunities in the same fashion could be enough to drive a player mad, but Fleury cautioned against it. As someone who’s intimately familiar with the fickleness of the posts, he sees anger toward them as unnecessary.

“It’s a good sign — getting chances, getting pucks through to the net,” Fleury said. “We’re going to score at some point.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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