Thursday, April 20, 2023 | 2 a.m.
Trailing 3-1 with 5:15 remaining in Game 1, the Golden Knights went to the power play.
It was a gift on a night when opportunities were at a premium against the Winnipeg Jets. Vegas got a chance to change the game despite being dominated for most of the night.
But the Golden Knights didn’t register a shot on goal for the entire two minutes. Even when the sold-out crowd of 18,006 begged defenseman Shea Theodore to shoot the puck, nothing came of it.
Boos roared throughout T-Mobile Arena in what was a frustrating night for everyone involved in the Golden Knights’ 5-1 loss in the series opener on Tuesday.
That capped off an 0-for-3 outing on the power play with just one combined shot on goal through all three opportunities.
“We’re hockey players. There’s a reason why we’re out there. We’re gifted offensively,” forward Jonathan Marchessault said. “We’re put in those situations to be able to have success. It’s on us to execute.”
Game 2 is tonight (7 p.m., ATTSN-RM) and the Golden Knights are trying to avoid going down 2-0 in a best-of-7 series for the second time ever. The last time that happened was the 2021 playoffs against the Colorado Avalanche when Vegas won four straight and advanced to the conference final.
The Golden Knights are capable of doing that again, as evidenced by being the top seed in the Western Conference. But another rough outing on the power play would make that uphill climb even steeper.
When Vegas hired Bruce Cassidy to replace Pete DeBoer, the power play was the most glaring issue to be fixed. Cassidy coached a Boston Bruins power play that finished in the upper half of the league every year since he was head coach, including the second-best power play in 2019 when he coached the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Final.
After finishing 25th and 22nd in DeBoer’s final two years in Vegas, the Golden Knights showed signs of improvement this season by finishing 18th (20.3%).
But Game 1 had a similar feeling to the last time the Golden Knights were in the playoffs, the shocking six-game loss to Montreal in the league’s semifinals in 2021. Vegas went 0 for 15 in that series and converted just 9.3% of its power plays in the entire postseason.
The Golden Knights don’t appear to be anywhere near that level of bad, but one shot on three opportunities — even against the seventh-best penalty-killing unit in Winnipeg (82.4%) — brings back some semblance of deja vu.
“Special teams is huge this time of year,” center Jack Eichel said. “We’re going to need to have that be more of a weapon than anything. It hurt us (Tuesday).”
Chandler Stephenson, who was one of five Vegas skaters to not register a shot on goal in Game 1, said the power play clicks best when the Golden Knights find a way to create chances.
“It’s always tough on the PK when you’re not really sure who you got and it’s kind of shot, after shot, after shot, and you’re running around like a chicken with your head cut off,” said the Golden Knights center. “It’s picking you apart and the puck’s moving fast. That was something we were a little slow at. We want to be quicker.”
Vegas’ first power play of the game — starting at 4:18 of the second period — had that level of quickness and momentum. While the only shot came at the tail end of the man advantage, the Golden Knights got the puck to where they wanted it.
Vegas cycled it around to where Reilly Smith was alone at the right faceoff circle. His one-timer was stopped by a great side-to-side save from Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck, but it’s the movement Vegas wants to have.
Cassidy said the execution needs to be faster and better when they have the opportunity. The Golden Knights struggled to get past the offensive blue line on the second power play, and the third chance was highlighted by the lack of shooting and off-target passing.
“The pace of our power play, I’ve said it, it’s been a challenge to get both groups to move the puck quicker than the kill can rotate and then get it to the net and recover pucks,” Cassidy said. “It’s been the shooting mentality. When we have that, I think our power play is good. When we lose that, we’re really relying on precision plays, and (Tuesday) we didn’t have that.”
Having an elite power play isn’t a foreign concept for Vegas. It’s been possible.
When they started 28-13-2 entering Jan. 12, they converted on nearly 26% of their chances. The Jan. 12 date is important because that’s when Mark Stone went down with a back injury that led to his second surgery in less than a year.
Without Stone in the final 39 games, the Golden Knights went 12 for 90 (13%).
Expecting Stone back to full form in all aspects of his game — including the power play — is a questionable decision right now. Stone led all forwards by playing 21:28 on Tuesday, but the Vegas captain looked like someone shaking the rust after missing three months.
Marchessault said that the Golden Knights need to simplify the power play and treat it with a 5-on-5 mentality.
“It’s one thing to get a power play. It’s easy to say the power play needs to score, but I think the most positive thing we can do as a power play is getting some momentum,” Marchessault said.
After Game 1, it shouldn’t be that difficult to find the momentum, right?
“You’ve got to be able to cash in or get some momentum, and that’s not what we did (Tuesday). It’s on us to execute a little better,” Marchessault added. “It can’t get worse from there.”
Golden Knights – Jets, Game 2 (Jets lead 1-0)
Time: 7 p.m.
TV: AT&T SportsNet-Rocky Mountain, TBS (out of market)
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM
Odds: Golden Knights -144, Jets +131 (Westgate Las Vegas Superbook)
Danny Webster can be reached at 702-259-8814 or [email protected] Follow Danny on Twitter at twitter.com/DannyWebster21.