The sophomore slump has struck early. The Vegas Golden Knights, a year removed from a miracle inaugural season with a trip to the finals, are 1-3-0, and they aren’t scoring. That’s a problem against any team, but especially when trying to keep up with an offense like the defending champs’.
The Capitals topped the Golden Knights 5-2 in a rematch of the Cup final, and if you don’t want to read too much from Vegas’s slow start into the result of a single game, you could just note that Evgeny Kuznetsov is red-hot and appears to have the Knights’ number. He had eight points in the five-game Cup final, and seven points in the Caps’ first three games this season, after Thursday’s four-point night.
Kuznetsov had a goal and three assists, including this patient beauty, taking both VGK defensemen out of the play simply by holding the puck long enough, setting up Alex Ovechkin for a one-timer.
There’s no shame in losing to the Caps, though it’s not as if things are going to get any easier tonight, with a date in Pittsburgh.
“It’s a long year and we have to figure out things quick,” defenseman Shea Theodore said. “Our goal is from this road trip you want to be a .500 team, and when we’re playing like this that’s not going to happen. We definitely have to work some things out and find our game.”
It’s indeed a long year, but this is relatively new for a team that opened last season by winning eight of nine, didn’t lose its third game until Halloween, and didn’t have a 1-3-0 stretch after November. One theory:
Another potential cause: The Golden Knights just aren’t scoring goals. They’ve scored exactly two in every game this season (including in a 2-1 shootout win over Minnesota). Since we’re talking a very small sample size, maybe there’s nothing to it but chance. Coach Gerard Gallant talked about a lack of “puck luck,” and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury noted that Vegas hit four posts in this game.
“Seems like we’ve had a few nights like that so far this season,” Fleury said. “It’s a good sign — getting chances, getting pucks through to the net. We’re going to score at some point.”
But what if there’s more to it? It feels silly to wonder about a lack of offensive chemistry when obviously this team had zero playing time together when they ripped off a bunch of wins to start last season. And at first glance, the team’s not all that different from last year: David Perron and James Neal (and, uh, Tomas Tatar, I guess) are out, and Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty are in. But there have been complications. Stastny was injured on Monday and will miss at least the remainder of this road trip, and perhaps much longer. Alex Tuch is hurt and hasn’t appeared in a game. Cody Eakin only made his debut last night. Nate Schmidt, a puck-moving defenseman who sets up a lot of things going the other way, is serving a 20-game PED suspension. The Golden Knights aren’t as deep or as talented right now as they’ll be when everyone’s in the lineup, and the composition of their second and third lines are in unaccustomed flux because of it. Considering how many Knights skaters performed to the tune of career bests last seasons, chemistry does matter.
Scoring is not the concern here, long-term. That’d be the defense, which was and still projects as the Knight’s weakness, and indeed Vegas has allowed 15 goals in four games. Again, I’d like to emphasize that four games is just four games, so I’m not going to say this team is doomed or anything (Knights fans: please don’t email!). But this is very much some early-season adversity of a sort the franchise has literally never known.