Golden Knights start lengthy road trip with loss in Buffalo

Posted Wednesday, 15 January 2020 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

The Golden Knights didn’t want to start their road trip like this. They played a better game than they had in their last three at home, but the result was the same. Vegas’ struggles continued, falling to the Buffalo Sabres 4-2 on Tuesday night at KeyBank Center, the fourth loss in a row. Tomas Nosek opened the scoring as the beneficiary of a Chandler Stephenson centering pass that deflected off him and into the net. Reilly Smith scored a power-play goal, his third goal in four games. Shea Theodore assisted on both. Vegas led 1-0 then allowed two Buffalo power-play goals. The Golden Knights tied it up before Jack Eichel netted the game-winner before an empty-netter. “It’s tougher when you’re losing to a team that you know that you’re better than and we’re a better hockey team,” forward Mark Stone said to AT&T SportsNet. “Just have to find ways to put the puck in the net, and we’ve kind of gotten stale and lost a bunch of games.” Here are three takeaways from the loss. Just under average There are plenty of advanced stats that suggest the Golden Knights are not only a good team, but among the league’s elite. They came into the game with the second-best share of expected goals, second-best share of scoring chances and third-best share of shot attempts. They even had the fourth-worst PDO in the league, a stat that suggests teams at the lower end are due for some positive regression. And yet ... Vegas now has 24 wins and 25 losses (24-19-6) with a goal differential of minus-1 when shootouts are excluded. The Golden Knights are below average in the standings and entered the game clinging to a wild card spot. They could be out of a postseason berth altogether by the time the night is over. “Adversity, at the end of the day, can make your team stronger, and we’ve got to look at it as an opportunity here to build our game as a group,” forward Max Pacioretty said to AT&T SportsNet. “And maybe when we were winning, things weren’t perfect and this could be a sign that we’ve got to bear down a little bit.” Penalty kill struggles Buffalo’s first two goals came with the man advantage, capitalizing on a struggling Golden Knights unit. Vegas has allowed a power-play goal in six games in a row, dropping them to a 79.5 kill rate for the season, 19th in the league. A big reason Vegas was successful on the penalty kill early in the season was that Marc-Andre Fleury was playing at an otherworldly level. In the team’s first 24 games, Fleury had a .952 save percentage with his team down a man. In the 25 games since then, including Tuesday, Fleury’s save percentage was .767. “I’ve probably let in goals that sometimes I should stop,” Fleury told AT&T SportsNet. “It was such a strong thing for us early in the season, and very consistently every night we were good, and now it’s been costing us a few here.” Second-period swing On the same shift in the second period, with about three minutes left, the Golden Knights twice had a chance with the Buffalo goalie in no position to make a save. First Mark Stone took the puck away from goalie Linus Ullmark behind the net and fed Pacioretty in front. The puck hopped over Pacioretty’s stick and Vegas didn’t get a shot off. Seconds later, Shea Theodore, fresh off denting the iron moments earlier, drew Ullmark and the defense to the left side of the net and fed Chandler Stephenson on the right. Stephenson had an open net, but missed wide. Had either one of those turned into goals, we might be talking about a different game. Vegas did even the score up early in the third, but a superstar-type play by Eichel put the Sabres back up six minutes later, then Curtis Lazar’s empty-netter ended it. “There were a couple of wide-open nets and a couple of posts,” coach Gerard Gallant said to AT&T SportsNet. “We had some opportunities to score more goals than the two tonight, but unfortunately for us they didn’t go in.”

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