Canadian Press via AP
Tuesday, June 22, 2021 | 2 a.m.
The immediate takeaways from Game 4 were all positive for the Golden Knights. Robin Lehner was spectacular in a pinch-hit role with 27 saves, while hometown kid Nicolas Roy scored the winner in overtime. Vegas left Montreal with a split, setting up a three-game series for a trip to the Stanley Cup Final with two games at home.
Lost in all the success was a continuation of a trend the Golden Knights would like to halt. Top forwards still aren’t scoring, and despite the win, Game 4 could go down as one of the poorest offensive performances in team history. It’s something Vegas needs to turn around in Game 5 against the Canadiens at 6 p.m. tonight at T-Mobile Arena.
“Obviously it’s great that we tied the series (Sunday), but at some point the big guys are going to kind of have to come out and step up here, including myself,” forward Jonathan Marchessault said. “It’s not good enough for the forward group that we have to have only three goals in four games.”
The forward group averaged nearly three goals per game in the regular season but has taken a big step back in the semifinal series. Roy has two, Mattias Janmark has one and that’s it for forwards scoring.
Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo has as many goals as the forwards combined.
Game 4, particularly through regulation, was the nadir of the Vegas offense this postseason. The Golden Knights had 18 shots on goal through 60 minutes, tying a franchise-low for regulation shots in a playoff game, matched only by Game 4 against the Wild earlier this year — a game Vegas won 4-0.
The Golden Knights had zero high-danger scoring chances through regulation, according to naturalstattrick.com, the first time in franchise history — regular season or playoffs — they failed to generate one. Vegas finished with two, both on the winning sequence by Roy in overtime. The last time a playoff team had fewer high-danger chances was in 2016, two seasons before the Golden Knights existed.
“Obviously we’re facing an unbelievable goalie, but that’s no excuse. It’s the same thing last year against Vancouver, Dallas, it’s the same thing,” Marchessault said. “We’ve got to find a way and we don’t have any excuses. We need solutions ASAP and we need to help our team win some games here.”
It’s fitting he mentioned Vancouver because Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko was tremendous and nearly stole the series virtually on his own. He played just three full games but made 91 saves on 92 shots in victories in Games 5 and 6 to bring the Canucks to a Game 7, where he made 34 saves and allowed one goal.
According to Evolving Hockey, Demko saved an eye-popping 10.32 goals more than expected based on the quality and quantity of Vegas chances that series. And while Carey Price has been good this series, he’s saved just 2.02 goals above expected since the Golden Knights tagged him for four goals in Game 1.
Demko played out of his mind to keep the Golden Knights’ chances out of the net last September. Against Montreal in Game 4, it wasn’t so much that Price was keeping the chances out as much as the chances were never there until Roy’s game-winning sequence.
“I know we wanted the win pretty bad there,” Roy said. “We battled back in the third and we were ready for overtime. It’s a nice feeling for sure.”
Roy has been a terrific story this series, scoring goals in both games back in his home province of Quebec. He put the Golden Knights on the board in Game 3 then sent them home in Game 4, marking the first time in six career playoff series he has a goal in back-to-back games.
Roy has two goals, which is good for a depth player but most of the rest of the forward group is not carrying their weight.
Mark Stone has no points. Marchessault has one. Max Pacioretty, William Karlsson, Reilly Smith and Alex Tuch have all gone scoreless.
Vegas still has 10 goals in four games, a respectable enough number held afloat by the defense. McNabb became the seventh Vegas defenseman to score a goal this postseason, tying an NHL record in Game 4.
Pietrangelo has carried the load from the blue line, scoring three goals this series and upping his point total to 11 for the postseason, thrusting himself into the Conn Smythe conversation should Vegas continue its run.
“Obviously there’s a lot of talk about the forwards not scoring but they’re creating opportunities, they’re creating those plays and allowing us to score those goals,” Pietrangelo said. “Obviously we’ve got to continue to find a way to create some more, but they’re playing tight defensively, the goalie’s playing well, but as a group collectively I think offensively we’re proud of the way we’re able to contribute.”
It’s true that the top forwards managed some good things on Vegas’ goals. Karlsson set up McNabb for the game-tying goal, and Pacioretty’s shot put Roy in position to win.
And it’s also true the Golden Knights are still missing their top-line center, which has had a trickle-down effect on the rest of the forwards this season. Chandler Stephenson’s return is “on the horizon,” coach Pete DeBoer said Monday, and getting him back will go a long way in stabilizing their top-six, particularly Stone and Pacioretty.
Until he returns, Vegas will need to find an answer. The Golden Knights can’t rely on Lehner or Marc-Andre Fleury holding the Canadiens to one goal, though they’ve done so in each of the team’s wins this series. It hasn’t hurt the Golden Knights too badly yet, as it’s a credit to them that they tied the series without goals from the players on the team they count on to score.
At some point, the best players are going to need step up like Marchessault mentioned. Game 5 may need to be the time.