Golden Knights struggle to contain Boston’s top line in season’s first loss

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John Locher / AP

Boston Bruins center Brad Marchand (63) attempts a shot on Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury during the third period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019, in Las Vegas.

Tue, Oct 8, 2019 (11 p.m.)

When the Golden Knights were winning early in Tuesday’s game it was in part because the Bruins’ three-headed scoring machine had yet to truly arrive. Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak have been one of hockey’s best lines for almost half a decade, and when they showed up, it turned the game on its head.

That Boston trio frustrated the Golden Knights from the middle of the first period onward, combining for three goals and four assists to spark a Boston comeback and beat Vegas 4-3 at T-Mobile Arena. It was the Golden Knights’ first loss of the season.

What is it that those three do so well?

“Everything. They win faceoffs, they back-check hard, then they have a quick transition and they score on their chances,” Golden Knights forward Reilly Smith said. “When you play a team like Boston who has a line like that you really have to focus on shutting them down, and I don’t think we did a good enough job tonight.”

The Golden Knights led 2-0 on early goals by Smith and Mark Stone, but the Bruins’ trio weren't going to stay down for long. First it was a Bergeron takeaway from Deryk Engelland in the defensive zone, leading to a Marchand feed and a Pastrnak goal. Then it was a power-play goal where Pastrnak fed Marchand in the slot.

Their third goal was the most impressive. Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore tried to dump the puck in, but didn’t get it deep enough. Pastrnak picked it off, then shot it up the left-wing boards, bouncing it around Theodore and Smith to a streaking Marchand, who beat Marc-Andre Fleury glove-side on a partial breakaway.

Two of that line’s three goals, and three of the Bruins’ four goals overall, came as a result of Vegas turnovers.

“Three of the goals are directly our fault,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “They played a good game and had good chances, but we didn’t manage the puck well. That was the biggest reason for the loss.”

Last season, Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak combined for 260 points. They started this still-young season a little slow, with only two combined points coming into the night. Then Marchand had two goals and an assist Tuesday, Pastrnak had a goal and two assists and Bergeron had an assist.

“They’re fast, they’re skilled, that’s been their M.O.,” Stone said. “We had our chances to score against them, we just didn’t take advantage of it.”

He’s right. When the Bergeron line was on the ice at 5-on-5, the Golden Knights generated six scoring chances compared with the Boston line's five, according to Natural Stat Trick. Vegas had 53.3% of the expected goal share against them, meaning they didn’t tilt the ice as much as the raw point totals might indicate. The Golden Knights’ second goal even came with all three on the ice.

But that trio controlled the puck to the tune of 60.9% of the 5-on-5 shot attempts, and yielded just one high-danger Vegas chance. That makes it hard for Vegas to come back from a two-goal deficit in the third period, and the Golden Knights did not record a shot on goal in the third until the 11:31 mark.

“They've got great chemistry, so they played real good tonight,” Gallant said. “They put a lot of pressure on our defense for sure.”

Vegas did get a third-period goal, but it wasn’t enough. Max Pacioretty scored on the power play with 5:18 left in the game, helping the team’s power play to a 2-for-3 night. Stone scored the first goal with the extra man then assisted on Pacioretty’s, giving him a third consecutive multi-point night. He has six points to start the season, tied for fifth in the league.

It wasn’t a bad night by any means for the Golden Knights. They were narrowly outplayed by an elite team, and even came out of the gates hot for the third game in a row. They played pretty well, but against the defending Eastern Conference champions, pretty well isn’t always enough to secure the two points. It wasn’t on Tuesday.

“We came out and had a really good start. It would've been nice to hold onto that start and keep up that intensity,” Pacioretty said. “We'll learn from that and make sure that, especially against an offensive team like that, that we never take our foot off the gas.”

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