If you’re trying to blow your own face off and fall down a sewer for comedic effect instead of securing a playoff spot, you’d have to give the Vegas Golden Knights an Emmy for their performance last night. Needing just about every point they can get to pass the Dallas Stars for the last wildcard spot in the West, and having borked their chance of catching a seriously unimpressive Kings team for the last automatic spot in the Pacific, the Knights had the simple task of overcoming the San Jose Sharks at home. A Sharks team that had played the night before in San Jose. A Sharks team that hasn’t had anything to play for in months. A Sharks team that is on the golf course already.
Vegas controlled most of the game fairly well, and looked pretty damn comfy leading 4-2 with three minutes to go. Merely holding a two-goal lead for three minutes, a pretty elementary task for any team that maintains oxygen intake, would have set up something of a winner-take-all tilt in Dallas on Tuesday night when the Knights head there to play the Stars.
Then this happened:
And then this happened, in utterly groin-grabbingly hilarious and satisfying fashion for anyone outside the Knights’ bandwagon:
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Of course, the Knights weren’t done with their rendition of Self-Immolation Theater. They got a power play with 1:37 left in OT. While 4-on-3 power plays aren’t a guarantee to score, when you’re as desperate as the Knights are against a team that, again, is running out the clock until summer break, it should be something you cash in on. Vegas managed a couple prayers from deep that didn’t trouble James Reimer. Then they failed to beat Reimer in the shootout, grabbing only one point when they needed two, and now have to run the table on the road in their last three games essentially to have a chance at making the postseason.
Of course, the Stars could take it out of their hands by collecting four points in their last three games, all at home. Even if they don’t beat the Knights Tuesday, they face the Coyotes and Ducks Wednesday and Friday to close out. Those are two more teams who have had senioritis since February at least. Or in the Yotes case, forever.
There are certainly lots of problems for the Knights. You’ve probably heard them scream about injuries since training camp. Though that might have been less of a problem if they hadn’t eroded their depth in their pursuit of whatever the newest, shiniest thing came on the market that week (Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone, Alex Pietrangelo, Jack Eichel, etc.).
Their goaltending has been a mess, which tends to happen to any team that trusts Robin Lehner in important games. At the moment though, they can’t even decide if Lehner is hurt or not. Lehner hasn’t been very good, and has been injured this season, but he also needs nothing more than an odd look to wet himself over feeling slighted. That shouldn’t gain any sympathy for coach Pete DeBoer, who has handled the whole thing and his whole team liked a deadbeat dad. The Knights’ special teams have been coughing up sputum all season, and while some of that on the PK side can be pinned on goaltending, there’s no reason a team with this kind of firepower should look like five guys waiting for their drivers license renewal on the power play.
And it should be noted that their prize claim of this season, Eichel, has been dogshit lately. While the numbers overall look ok for him (21 points in 31 games), this last week or so when the Knights have been playing for their lives, he’s been nowhere.
Last night, and it can’t be stressed enough that this was against the Sharks on the second of a back-to-back, Eichel had an expected goals percentage of eight. That’s EIGHT. His Corsi-rating for the night was 40 percent. And who were these titans of industry that swirlied Eichel for the evening? Rudolfs Balcers, Noah Gregor, and Thomas Bordeleau. No, they are not the guys comprising the band opening for Kraftwerk on their reunion tour (yes I know Florian Schneider is dead but just go with me here). Eichel had two shots on goal, and if you watch Timo Meier’s tying goal with 0.9 seconds left you’ll notice Eichel drifting over to the opposite corner to chase a puck he never had any hope of getting to and vacating the exact spot that Meier would score from.
In his last five games, Eichel has one goal. That’s it. He’s also been getting his balls gnawed off by whoever he’s out there against. His Corsi-percentage in the last five games: 37.2, 63.7, 39.5, 44.9, and last night’s 40.1 beer fart. Even in that one dominant game, against Edmonton, the Knights lost 4-0. His expected goal percentage in those five: 42.9, 60.3, 53.1, 12.8 (!), and last night’s incomprehensible 8.
Eichel has time to save the Knights with big performances in their last three games. But things are not trending the right way. His M.O. has always been to be at the head of a ship that crashes into the rocks. His BU team lost the NCAA Championship game at TD Garden to a much lower seeded Providence team. The world junior team in 2015 he captained (that featured no less than 15 future NHLers, including Auston Matthews and Dylan Larkin) got stonewalled by Igor Shesterkin in the quarterfinals. The year before that the US team with Eichel on it spit it against Russia in the quarters as well. That time it was Andrei Vasilevskiy doing the honors at the guillotine. His Sabres never even got within a sniff of the playoffs.
The Knights thought Eichel was the final piece to get them over the top, even if they cut out even more of the foundation to add him. Well, that boulder is rolling down the hill pretty heavily right now and Eichel is lying with his dick in the dirt.