Many questions were asked to players in the Golden Knights’ locker room following their 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers Sunday night at T-Mobile Arena.
The answer to nearly all of them involved the “blue paint.”
Blue paint is the semicircle 4-feet in diameter in front of the goal mouth, which is usually patrolled by goaltenders and opposing forwards brave enough to face the punishment it takes to occupy the ice.
Creating traffic in front of the goalie to screen his vision, deflect pucks and cause havoc is imperative to scoring goals. Sunday night, the Flyers got to the area — all three of their goals (excluding the empty net goal in the final minutes) came from within feet of the crease— and the Golden Knights didn’t.
“It doesn’t matter if you control the puck or not because if you’re not strong enough in the blue paint you lose the game,” Vegas defenseman Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said. “They were stronger in the blue paint and that can’t happen.”
The Golden Knights outshot the Flyers 39-18, but the vast majority of shots were routine saves for Philadelphia netminder Michal Neuvirth.
“We have to get inside, in the center of the ice and get around the blue paint to make things tough on the goalie,” said defenseman Brayden McNabb, who scored the Golden Knights’ only goal. “We didn’t go to the hard areas and we kind of made things easy on them.”
Vegas spent the majority of the game threatening in the offensive zone, with possession of the puck, but in the end it meant little.
“Coach told us in the end of the second that it might look like we are controlling the game but they were in the tough areas and we were not,” Bellemare said.
“I agree 100 percent,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “We got a ton of shots but nothing that was real dangerous and their goalie saw everything. They scored their goals around the blue paint, so that was difference in the game.”
Philadelphia tied the game 1-1 late in the first period with a goal by Sean Couturier, who was parked right in front of Marc-Andre Fleury’s crease. Couturier one-timed the puck past Fleury for his 28th goal of the season.
The next goal came on a lucky bounce, when the puck deflected off Andrew MacDonald’s skate blade and past Fleury in the second period.
The Flyers scored their third goal in similar fashion, when Fleury attempted to poke the puck away from Couturier as he drove to the net. The puck landed on the stick of captain Claude Giroux’s stick and he slotted it into the wide-open net.
“I’m right there, but he put out the toe of his stick and it’s a goal,” Bellemare said, taking blame for the third goal. “I’m right there, but I don’t have my stick on the ice. (It was) a weak play and that can’t happen.”
It’s not a trend for the Golden Knights, as they have consistently outworked opponents this season.
“The guys know you score goals around the blue paint and we didn’t get there tonight,” Gallant said. “Philly did a great job of keeping us out. They were protecting the lead and did a good job of protecting it. We didn’t get a lot of chances. You have to give them a lot of credit. They played well and we weren’t hungry enough tonight.”
Vegas still leads the Pacific Division by double digits. It has six more games left on the homestand.
“We’ve been pretty good at it all year,” McNabb said, “so we’ll get back to it.”