The Vegas Golden Knights faced the Toronto Maple Leafs at home on Tuesday night, coming off of one of their worst losses of the season to the Chicago Blackhawks. The Leafs were a major step up in competition, having won four of their last five games and posting a 22-8-3 record. Having injuries is normal for NHL teams, but the Golden Knights were fighting through multiple injuries and late COVID protocol additions in this game.
Prior to the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs the Vegas Golden Knights announced that they had added: Nolan Patrick, Nicolas Roy, and Shea Theodore to their COVID protocol list. The ever growing list not only contained those three key players, but also has key defenseman Alec Martinez as well.
Alec Martinez has been battling an injury for quite some time, and his loss was felt without Theodore in the lineup. Furthermore, the Knights also have both Jack Eichel and Max Pacioretty out with injuries as well. Missing all those key players was a struggle to overcome, and unfortunately they were not able to.
Nonetheless, it’s part of the game. And in a game that was defined by a puck control in both zones, some key turnovers, and multiple great saves- the Maple Leafs were able to walk away with the shootout win. Now, it’s in the past- time to reflect and move on. So without much more to say, Here are three takeaways from the Vegas Golden Knights’ 4-3 loss to the Maple Leafs.
1. The Golden Knights Looked Outmatched from Puck Drop
The Vegas Golden Knights got off to a rough start, giving up a breakaway goal to William Nylander just 1:24 into the game. Vegas scored a power-play goal in the back half of the first period courtesy of Keegan Kolesar, who scored his first career power-play goal shortly after the Golden Knights killed off two penalties.
The Golden Knights escaped the first period tied at 1-1, but the score wasn’t a good indicator of how they played. They got out shot-attempted 24-8, out-chanced 15-4, and only controlled 24.2% of the expected goals in the first period. Robin Lehner kept them in this game early, making multiple big saves against Auston Matthews.
The Golden Knights didn’t play well in the first period, but they were able to weather the storm and keep the game tied. With all of the injuries and COVID news that the Golden Knights were trying to persevere through, it looked as though it was going to be a long night.
2. The “Misfit” Line Continued to Carry the Golden Knights
Through all of the Golden Knights’ injuries, the one line that has remained together and healthy is the one with William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith. Being the most reliable line is nothing new for the misfit line, as they’ve been the Golden Knights’ most reliable line since 2017. Although, with the injuries the Golden Knights have suffered this season it’s become much more important that this line produces.
After the first period, this line took over the game and earned the Golden Knights the extra point. Karlsson scored a goal early in the third period to cut the lead to one, and then Marchessault had the primary assist on Alex Pietrangelo’s game-tying goal.
Their play in this game goes beyond the scoresheet, as they controlled play at both ends of the ice and were the best line on the ice. At even strength, they out-shot-attempted their opponents 15-8, out-chanced them 9-3, and they controlled 66.88% of the expected goals. With Max Pacioretty out indefinitely, this line will have to continue being the Golden Knights’ most reliable and consistent line.
3. Matchups Weren’t an Issue, Even at Their Current Health.
With Shea Theodore, Nicolas Roy and Nolan Patrick being placed in COVID protocol earlier that morning, along with Max Pacioretty and Nicolas Hauge on injured reserve, the Golden Knights were destined to lose from puck drop. If they can find a way to be healthy this season, the Golden Knights will be able to match up with any team in the NHL. Most likely the best storyline of this game from the Golden Knights perspective was that the center combination of Auston Matthews and John Tavares wasn’t too much to handle. Chandler Stephenson and Karlsson both played well in leading the Golden Knights’ comeback in the third period.
This one was a heartbreaker. The Golden Knights controlled play for the second half of the game, won the special teams battle, and got good enough goaltending to win, yet they only came away with one point. Missing three of their core players, this was an encouraging game, and it makes it even more exciting to see how this team will play at full strength.