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Why the Golden Knights Have Me Worried

Image: D Magazine

The Vegas Golden Knights blew out the Dallas Stars last Tuesday, 4-0. It was a complete collapse in Texas, with Jamie Benn’s two-game suspension for his cross-check on Mark Stone and the Misfits taking control. Life was good in Sin City for hockey fans. Visions of a Stanley Cup were in the air.

Fast forward to Memorial Day, where the Knights suddenly lose two straight to the Stars. Pete DeBoer has his team feeling confident, Dallas gets their captain back, and Vegas looks sluggish. Suddenly, the pressure is on the Golden Knights.

Losing two straight has some fans worried.

“Are we going to choke away a 3-0 series lead?”

“Is the end near?”

“Will Shark and King fans make fun of us eternally for blowing a 3-0 lead (yes is the correct answer)?”

Losing the last two has caused chaos in Las Vegas. The sky is falling! Human sacrifice! Cats and dogs living together! MASS HYSTERIA! What has caused this sudden downturn in hope for the Golden Knights?

Lack of Puck Control

Vegas wasn’t responsible with the puck in Game 5. On Saturday, the Golden Knights gave the puck away 24 times (compared to nine giveaways for Dallas). This gave the Stars numerous opportunities in the offensive zone, leading to goals and Adin Hill being overwhelmed.

A majority of these giveaways came from poor puck management. That included overskating the puck and broken set-ups, leading to odd-man rushes and scoring chances for the Stars. As a result, players like Jason Robertson have suddenly become a threat, scoring three goals in his past two games. The All-Star has put the pressure on Vegas, opening up the attack for the Dallas Stars. Keep in mind that Dallas has more scoring depth than Edmonton (even with those McDavid and Draisaitl dudes on the Oilers).

The Golden Knights can’t afford to give an offensive-minded team like Dallas any scoring opportunities. That starts with slowing down the attack and having better set-ups for Vegas. This is especially true in the Knights’ offensive zone, where passes have gone all over the place.

More Disciplined Stars

Since that Game 3 disaster, DeBoer has done an excellent job putting a disciplined team on the ice. The Stars have only four penalty minutes to show for in their past two games. Desperation hockey has come in the form of making smarter plays and not losing their composure for Dallas.

This is also happening in the faceoff circle, where Dallas has won 57 faceoffs in the past two games. Compared to Vegas, who’s only won 49 in the past two, the Stars have had more control of the puck. This is Dallas’s bread and butter, led by the returning Benn (60.1%).

Winning these faceoffs allows Dallas to establish their attack and set up in the offensive zone, putting more pressure on the Golden Knights defensively. Granted, we knew the Stars would be a tough team on the faceoff. However, that’s something that Vegas must be better at. That way, they can set up their attack and create more scoring opportunities against Dallas.

Golden Knights’ History Lesson

This isn’t Vegas’s first rodeo with a lead of 3-1 or better. They also had this happen against the Sharks in 2019 and lost that series. This also happened in 2020 in the bubble, when the Golden Knights ran into a red-hot Thatcher Demko before disposing of Vancouver in Game 7. It even happened in 2021 against the Minnesota Wild, where Vegas eventually won in seven games.

It’s important for the Vegas Golden Knights to understand their history and figure out what went wrong in these situations. Was it not playing to lose? Was it relative overconfidence? One factor that doesn’t come into play is the head coach.

This happened under DeBoer. It also happened under Gerard Gallant, who got canned right after San Jose came back and won. It’s safe to say that the relative psyche of the Knights must change. It can be best summed up by Bruce Cassidy after Game 5: “Get Harder.”

The Overall Vibe for the Golden Knights

Does Vegas have a better chance of finishing off Dallas than, say, Miami does against Boston? Absolutely. The Heat had their chance in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals and had Derrick White steal the game. Look for Miami to be the first NBA team to lose a playoff series when up 3-0.

Besides, this Golden Knights team has faced such adversity before. We all thought they were in trouble when Winnipeg took Game 1 in the first round. Look what happened after that, especially with a solid goaltender in Connor Hellebuyck.

But Vegas must learn from past mistakes and take care of business against the Stars. That means going back on their patented forecheck and peppering Jake Oettinger with shots. They body-slammed Hellebuyck through the earth with shots, and they must do the same with Oettinger.

Also, remember this statistic. Since 2001, a team that came off a sweep has lost to a team that came off a Game 7 win in the next round. If this goes seven games and the Knights end DeBoer’s perfect Game 7 record, that’ll bode well for Vegas. But first, they need to end Dallas (obviously).

Speaking of Boston, it’s time for the Knights to learn something from the Celtics. Having that killer instinct when you’re cornered is a must. That starts with stars like Jack Eichel channeling their inner Jayson Tatum and ending the series once and for all.

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