If you needed a reminder of how quickly a situation can change in the NHL, look no further than the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
During the Second Round, Mark Stone and the Golden Knights didn’t just beat the Avalanche. At times, they genuinely outplayed a juggernaut team, and clearly frustrated Nathan MacKinnon and other top Avs.
Heading into Game 6 of Golden Knights – Canadiens on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; USA Network / Peacock), the shoe is on the other foot. Stone and other Golden Knights find themselves on the end of plays they’re used to making.
For many, that thought really stood out on this 3-0 Nick Suzuki goal, one where Stone seemed error-prone and then a little slow on the backcheck:
Stone, other Golden Knights scorers seem clueless vs. Canadiens
Truly, the lack of production from top Golden Knights is pretty stunning.
Mark Stone hasn’t scored a single point in five games vs. the Canadiens. Plus/minus is a busted stat, but Stone himself might be frustrated with his -3 mark during the series.
Big picture, the most troubling trend is a lack of chances. Sometimes you just don’t finish, especially against a keyed-in goalie like (playoff) Carey Price. But for Stone to only have a single shot on goal during his past two games? Not a great sign.
[NBC 2021 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]
While Stone won’t experience the same media scrutiny that linemate Max Pacioretty endured in Montreal, there are calls for more from Stone. Yet, when you consider the single-minded approach of Phillip Danault — a player who, quietly, has built up dark horse Selke buzz from those who delve deeper into analytics — it’s probably unfair to single out Stone and Pacioretty alone.
Danault – in these playoffs:
▶️ 1.21 GA/60 – 2nd among MTL Fs (over 100mins TOI)
▶️ 2.54 xGA/60 (50.2 xGF%) – ranks 15 among all MTL skaters
⚠️ context to be added QoC + crazy amount of d-zone starts#GoHabsGo https://t.co/VqZS51OP0n
— Jason Paul 🥥 (@WaveIntel) June 23, 2021
As great as Stone performed against Nathan MacKinnon, the Golden Knights “other top line” of Reilly Smith, William Karlsson, and Jonathan Marchessault did a lot of the actual scoring damage.
Yet, against the offense-hobbling Habs, they haven’t had much luck, either. Marchessault recognized that deficit on Monday.
“At some point, the big guys are going to have to come out and step up here, including myself…. Obviously, we’re facing an unbelievable goalie, but that’s no excuse,” Marchessault said. “It’s the same thing last year against Vancouver, Dallas…. We’ve got to find a way … We don’t have any excuses. We need solutions ASAP.”
A lack of solutions
Marchessault touched on a lingering thought: are the Golden Knights just out of answers vs. the Canadiens? When asked about top players not scoring, Peter DeBoer pointed to a general level of confusion.
“We have to find a way, you know?” DeBoer said. “You have to find ways this time of year against good teams and against pressure and against attention and against a good goalie. You have to find a way. Those are the teams that end up standing at the end of the day.”
Truly, you can find issues in just about every aspect of the game.
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Much like every other power play unit Montreal’s faced these playoffs, the Golden Knights look lost against the Canadiens’ penalty kill. So far, Vegas hasn’t found the right adjustments — assuming they’ve been looking. Time is running out, but maybe DeBoer should throw other ideas at the wall?
Recently, that frustration’s shown in Vegas’ transition game, as well. Some of that might be systemic: this is a team that likes to get moving, fast. But with the way the Canadiens are comfortable sitting back and taking away the high-danger areas, maybe the Golden Knights need to practice more patience?
Stranger things have happened — for both the Golden Knights and Canadiens
Again, there’s a sinking feeling that Vegas is out of solutions. It’s not that different from those series Marchessault alluded to against the Canucks and Stars. Only when it comes to the Canadiens, it doesn’t even really seem like the Golden Knights can exert their will to create a massive disparity in quantity.
Then again, with all of those negative feelings permeating this Golden Knights – Canadiens series, Vegas “merely” needs to string two wins together. That’s not nothing — hence the scare quotes — but this franchise sometimes delivers the most when people expect the least.
And they really need to only look at Montreal, who came back from a much more dire 3-1 deficit, to realize it can be done. Even against the perpetually doomed Maple Leafs, things looked pretty grim for the Habs then, too.
CANADIENS VS. GOLDEN KNIGHTS (MTL leads 3-2) – series livestream link
Game 1: Golden Knights 4, Canadiens 1
Game 2: Canadiens 3, Golden Knights 2
Game 3: Canadiens 3, Golden Knights 2 (OT)
Game 4: Golden Knights 2, Canadiens 1 (OT)
Game 5: Canadiens 4, Golden Knights 1
Game 6: Thurs. June 24: Golden Knights at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (USA Network / Peacock)
*Game 7: Sat. June 26: Canadiens at Golden Knights, 8 p.m ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.