Through five games of this Stanley Cup Playoffs semi-final, the Vegas Golden Knights have received four goals from their forward ranks.
That’s 14 different players, with only three — Nicolas Roy (two), Mattias Jankmark and Max Pacioretty — notching a goal.
Their powerplay, a unit so lost in itself it, is impossible even to get a perspective on what it is trying to do — if the unit could get to within a couple passes of its intended finisher — has gone 0-for-13.
So confused is the Vegas powerplay, its endgame appears to have become a wrist shot from the point. Not a slapper. A wrist shot.
No pressure from down low. No one-timer from the hash marks. Nothing from the bumper position.
Then again, that word “nothing” aptly describes the players who are supposed to be carrying this team offensively. No goals (or points) in this series from captain Mark Stone. No goals from Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson or Reilly Smith.
Vegas appears to be out of answers, though they would never let on even if that were the dead honest truth.
“The powerplay is an issue for us, not bringing those goals,” admitted Smith said between Games 5 and 6. “Other than that, I think it’s just typical playoff hockey where teams play tight (defence).
“The goaltender on the other side, whether you miss the net or put one right in his chest, it’s pretty much the same outcome. As a group, we can probably do a better job of getting inside their defence and trying to find second opportunities.”
Smith, a bright young man and a talented player, had scant few answers on how to get past the four large trees that inhabit Montreal’s top two defensive pairings, and then beat the almost unbeatable Carey Price. Or maybe he has the answer and just won’t tell us.
Tonight we find out.
Trailing this series three games to two, if the Golden Knights can’t come up with an answer to their goal-scoring woes tonight, it is because they don’t have one.
So, how does head coach Peter DeBoer make the points to his team that goals are needed, and a win would come in handy too? Without sounding like Captain Obvious?
“The end game is what you’re pointing out. For me, it’s the steps,” said DeBoer. “How do we get the result we want? The steps and the detail between where we are now and getting that result.”
The oatmeal quotes from the down-the-roster Vegas players the NHL trotted out on Thursday morning were, as intended, a bunch of words that told us little about how the players truly feel heading into this must-win game. Zach Whitecloud and Tomas Nosek are nice players who try hard, but the fate of the Golden Knights lies in the hands of guys like Stone, Karlsson, Marchessault and Shea Theodore.
“It’s a must-win. Guys are positive,” Whitecloud said enthusiastically Thursday morning. “Play the right way. Play our way. Execute and go out and get the job done.”
Of course, those words have been spoken inside the Vegas walls for five games, and the Canadiens have pulled away in this series.
So DeBoer will make some changes, and it appears from the morning skate that one of them will be in goal. There, it looks like Robin Lehner will get his second start of the series and Marc-Andre Fleury will sit down.
Sadly for the Golden Knights, it’s the goalie at the other end they would really like to change out. Price has a .929 saves percentage in this series, and between the defensive work being executed in front of him and the stellar play of the Hall of Famer in between the pipes, goals have been precious — just 11 for Vegas in five games so far.
“They do a good job clogging up the middle of the ice, whether it be in the neutral zone or in their defensive zone,” Smith said. “You have to be patient with the puck, making sure you’re not just throwing pucks away.”
It appears Nick Holden comes out on the third pairing in favour of Nicolas Hague. Again, more nibbling around the edges by DeBoer.
He needs to replace Round 3 Mark Stone, with Round 1 Mark Stone. The Vegas captain had four goals in the first five games of the opening round, but has dented the twine just once in his past 13 games.
He needs Round 2 Marchessault (five goals) to inhabit the hands and body of Round 3 Marchessault. He requires Karlsson to play like the 43-goal Karlsson of three seasons past, not the four-goal who inhabits jersey No. 71 this spring/summer.
The Golden Knights need things to change, and fast.
Or it’s going to be more of the same, and another third-round exit tonight for Vegas.