While the scale of concern sometimes feels as overblown as the Vegas Golden Knights’ vaunted pre-game presentation (they are only down 2-1), it’s true that the Washington Capitals gave the upstart expansion team a lot to worry about from Games 3 to 4.
Unlike their Western Conference opponents and just about everyone Vegas faced during the regular season, the Capitals found a way to clog up the Golden Knights’ exhilarating transition game. For all the jokes about Vegas “finally becoming an expansion team,” the real worry is that they looked, almost … flat and boring.
The Golden Knights also saw poor work from their second line, to the point that Gerard Gallant is subbing in Tomas Tatar for David Perron heading into Monday’s key Game 4 on NBC.
[Here’s the livestream link for Game 4. You can also enjoy “NHL Live” before the contest here.]
People might also be worried about the play of Vegas’ first line for the first time during this magical run.
After shockingly keeping pace – and in plenty of cases, getting the better of – the likes of Anze Kopitar, Joe Pavelski, and the Winnipeg Jets’ frightening high-end players, the trio of Reilly Smith, William Karlsson, and Jonathan Marchessault is sputtering a bit against the Caps.
Take Marchessault, for instance. Overall, he has a star-status-affirming 19 points in 18 postseason games, but lately things have dried up. The undersized, undrafted, indefatigable forward has only managed a single assist over the past four games, three of which came against Washington.
Does that mean it’s time to say that the pixie dust has worn off? Maybe for some elements of this team, but don’t blame Marchessault. And the Golden Knights shouldn’t worry about him.
For one thing, he’s putting up the sort of volume of shots that would indicate that he’s “due” for some positive bounces, and maybe those good breaks will come as early as tonight.
Despite coming up with zero goals (but two assists) over the past five games, Marchessault generated a whopping 28 shots on goal. That’s Alex Ovechkin-level trigger-happiness.
Did you yawn at those numbers and that chart (how dare you)?
Well, just consider the sports-car-swagger it takes to make a move like this, which was foiled only thanks to a great save by Braden Holtby:
No one wants to hear this, but in the modern NHL, just about every scorer is going to be doomed by poor luck. Or a keyed-in goalie. Or hitting a litany of posts.
It’s only human to get frustrated, and surely Marchessault must be feeling that a bit. Especially since he’s rarely struggled since the Florida Panthers made the Internet-entertaining gaffe of including him with Reilly Smith during the expansion draft.
The concern would be if Marchessault started getting in his own head too much. If the shot totals and highlight clips are any indication, it seems like he’s plugging away admirably.
Now, sure, it wouldn’t hurt if Vegas found a way to reinvigorate their flow to the speedy, exciting levels they’re used to. Such tweaks would help diversify their attack and take a little bit of the burden off of that top line. It also wouldn’t hurt if Reilly Smith has a rebound contest after an up-and-down Game 3 of penalties and mistakes, and if William Karlsson could get a bit more involved in the attack. Both of those scenarios seem reasonable, and maybe likely.
After praising the hardhat work of the fourth line (Pierre-Edouard Bellmare, Tomas Nosek, and Ryan Reaves), Gallant stated that he wanted his top trio to channel energy from the regular season.
“To a point yeah for sure, Belly and those guys play straight line, they work hard, they contain pucks down low and the way they have been successful in this series has been outstanding,” Gallant said. “Do I want Marchy and them playing like Bellemare? No I don’t. I love Belly, he does his job the way he does it, but our first line has to play the way they have played all season long.”
Even with Barry Trotz’s defensive tactics gumming up the works, Marchessault has been the most consistent source of scoring chances for Vegas.
To some, such work might only count under “moral victories,” but Marchessault and his partners would be better off ignoring the noise and keep doing what they’ve been doing. The goals should come … although as Ovechkin can attest, playoff success can be a fickle beast.
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.