Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019 | 11 p.m.
Justin Emerson and Case Keefer look ahead to the Golden Knights' upcoming homestand after a four-game road trip out of the All-Star break. They scout the players not only on the ice, but also on the sand amid reports of a beach volleyball matchup being part of the team's Floridian stretch.
Marc-Andre Fleury slapped his stick so hard on the ice late in the Vegas Golden Knights’ game against the Columbus Blue Jackets Saturday night that the sound reverberated to the upper reaches of T-Mobile Arena.
Vegas’ goalie was upset with himself for allowing a game-tying goal to the Blue Jackets’ Cam Atkinson with 5:12 remaining, but the worst was yet to come. Atkinson fired another puck past Fleury last than three minutes later on a power play to give the Blue Jackets a 4-3 win in the Golden Knights’ first home game in more than two weeks.
“I’ve got to be better to give myself a chance to win,” Fleury said afterwards in the locker room. “A few goals might be a tough bounce here and there, but at the end of the day, they got four goals against so it’s frustrating.”
Fleury’s aggressive goaltending style has been Vegas’ greatest asset over the last year and a half since the franchise’s formation. Against the Blue Jackets in front of 18,301 fans excited for the beginning of a long-awaited homestand, however, it was the Golden Knights’ undoing.
In addition to Atkinson’s two decisive goals, Fleury gave up a second-period score to Blue Jackets star Artemi Panarin because of a decision he’d like to have back.
He was a little overeager to leave the crease in pursuit of a loose puck, which clanked off the boards and towards Panarin for an easy goal on an empty net to tie the game at 2-2.
“They skated well,” Fleury said of the Blue Jackets. “They worked hard all night. They put pressure and get turnovers off of it, chances off of it.”
Fleury was far from the lone problem. Shot metrics graded the game as one of the Golden Knights’ most lopsided of the year, making it look fortunate that they were in position to eke out a late win in the first place.
Columbus had a 33-23 advantage in shots on goal and a 50-33 Corsi — a measure of all shots sent towards the goal — edge. Vegas came out strong, and the teams traded fluky early goals with Nate Schmidt scoring off of a deflection to answer a similar fortunate bounce for the Blue Jackets’ Josh Anderson.
But Vegas disappeared from there, rarely entering Columbus’ zone for several minutes as the period wound down. It got a reprieve in the form of a short-handed goal from defenseman Jon Merrill, his second of the year, to go up 2-1 before the issues resurfaced in the second period.
Vegas managed only three shots on goal in the second period, alarming coach Gerard Gallant to the extent that he decided to limit third-period shifts to three lines.
“We just didn’t have jump,” Gallant said. “It looked like we were skating in quicksand.”
It seemed that Gallant made a savvy move when the Golden Knights fired out to a strong start to the third period. They cashed in on a transition opportunity about midway through the frame with the rare pairing of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Cody Eakin combining for a go-ahead goal.
The deficit amped up Columbus’ attack, and Fleury couldn’t maintain the lead.
None of the Golden Knights blamed their goaltender, though, and instead insisted that they could have done more.
“I think we could have delivered a little better for him tonight and the rest of our team, especially our goaltender,” Schmidt said.
Although the penalty kill unit broke through for a goal in the first period, Schmidt thought it could have done more to stymie Atkinson’s game-winning shot set up from an assist by Zach Werenski. Schmidt’s defensive partner, Brayden McNabb, was also beaten down the ice on Atkinson’s earlier goal.
Fleury stopped Atkinson’s first shot once he got past McNabb, but couldn’t turn away another attempt on the rebound. Fleury spoke critically of his performance as he replayed all the goals postgame, but his status as the most revered Golden Knight remained clear.
On a night where he wasn’t at his best, Fleury’s team stood behind him.
“Cam Atkinson has got some great speed and he made a great play — just because (McNabb) didn’t catch him, the guy has unbelievable feet,” Gallant said. “That happens in part of a game and the power-play goal was a great shot. It’s unfortunate because I thought we played a good first period and a real good third period and they capitalized late. It doesn’t happen too often but it was a tough one tonight.”