What do Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone, Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson have in common? They’re No. 1 in ice time among Vegas forwards, and they’ve combined for one goal in this series.
The only other forwards to score for the Golden Knights have been Mattias Janmark and Nicolas Roy, a pair of bottom-sixers. The rest of the goals? All from defensemen.
We have to give Montreal full credit – they’ve done an incredible job of limiting the chances of Vegas’ top six. Montreal has killed 26 consecutive penalties, something that has proven to be a major difference-maker. And, of course, Carey Price has been Carey flippin’ Price. But for Vegas, it’s DEFCON Level 5 to the absolute extreme.
Vegas likely didn’t expect themselves to be facing elimination heading to Montreal for Game 6, but Montreal’s run has been anything but ordinary. They haven’t been the favorite in any series, but they’re a win away from moving on to the Stanley Cup final for the first time since 1993 – in a year where they were the team with the fewest points in the playoffs.
That heartwarming story doesn’t mean a whole lot to Vegas. It’s do-or-die for a team many expected to make the Stanley Cup final. And the big stars aren’t doing their fair share of the work at this point.
Overall, Karlsson (13) and Pacioretty (11) are still 1-2 in scoring for the Golden Knights and were big contributors against Minnesota and Colorado. Stone hasn’t played at the same level with seven in 15 games, good for sixth among Vegas forwards. Pacioretty finally was able to score against his former team to make it 3-1 in Game 5, but it wasn’t enough to force a late comeback.
Heading into the series against Montreal, Pacioretty’s 77.78 goals-for percentage put him among the league leaders. Against Montreal, he has hovered around the 60 percent mark for most of the series. He’s still better than 50 percent, but you’d expect that from a player of his caliber. The fact it took him five games to finally beat Price can legitimately be attributed to a mix of bad luck for Pacioretty and absolute wizardry by the Canadiens in their own zone, but you need to be better than that in the playoffs. You don’t get many second chances.
The bigger disappointment, though, has been Stone. Stone has looked visibly upset with himself throughout the series, struggling to penetrate the Canadiens blueline and not shooting at the same frequency that he had been doing so previously. Should Vegas be concerned? Absolutely, because it’s not like it’s just one guy struggling to score, it’s many. But when your best player is nowhere to be found, that’s a problem.
More than enough has been made about Vegas’ power-play struggles. The Golden Knights are now 0-for-13 in the series and 4-for-41 in the playoffs, by far making them the worst team on the man advantage. To their credit, Montreal’s PK percentage of 93.2 is literally the best ever for a team with at least 15 games played. That’s kind of incredible to think, but, again, that doesn’t do Vegas any favors. It’s boom or bust at this point in the running.
Vegas now finds itself in a tricky situation with everything on the line. The team clearly has exceeded all expectations since its inception, but very few teams go five or more years near the top of the standings. At some point, the Golden Knights will start to falter. They’ve been too far too many times to not be desperate for Lord Stanley’s favorite drinking cup. On paper, the Golden Knights are the superior team, but they sure aren’t playing like it right now.
Like the saying goes, close only matters in horseshoes. The Golden Knights are playing with hand grenades right now, and time’s running out.