The Golden Knights hadn’t had any trouble scoring against the Blues this season. After Monday’s 6-1 beatdown, Vegas had scored 25 times in five games against St. Louis.
Wednesday was a different story.
Even with a season-high 51 shots on goal, the Golden Knights didn’t score until there was 4:16 left in the game, and Nicolas Roy’s goal wasn’t enough to mount a comeback as Vegas fell 3-1 to the Blues at Enterprise Center.
The 51 shots were the fourth-most in franchise history and the most Vegas has ever had in a loss.
“At the end of the day, the guys that are getting paid to score goals,” captain Mark Stone said. “These are the types of games where your best players have to score goals and take a little bit of responsibility and a majority of the responsibility for that."
Stone has just three assists and no goals over his past eight games and has not scored since a two-goal game on March 22. Linemate Max Pacioretty, who Stone also mentioned, has one assist and no goals over the past six games.
Stone bore the brunt of the weight postgame, as captains are wont to do, but the Golden Knights did have to play yet another game short-handed in what is becoming a troubling trend. Defenseman Alec Martinez was a late scratch Wednesday, and because they are tight against the cap, the Golden Knights were unable to dress a replacement and played with fewer than the maximum 18 skaters for the third time this season.
“It’s always tough missing a guy like that, but I think at the end of the day it’s more opportunity for ice time I guess, and I think we just have to step up,” defenseman Shea Theodore said. “Everyone has to do their job and really step up to make up for it.”
Theodore more than did his part. With Vegas icing just five defensemen and trailing most of the game, Theodore logged a career-high 30:42 of ice time and fired off 20 shot attempts, double that of anyone else on the team. Fellow defenseman Alex Pietrangelo also played a season-high 31 minutes.
But the fact that Theodore and Pietrangelo had to play that much is part of a larger issue. Vegas is so tight against the salary cap that when a player is scratched, it doesn’t not have cap room to dress a replacement. The Golden Knights can utilize an emergency exemption if needed for their next game Friday but were stuck with just 17 Wednesday.
Coach Pete DeBoer insists that’s not an issue. In fairness to him, the salary cap isn’t his area — that’s general manager Kelly McCrimmon’s — but he called it a “non-issue” when asked about it after the game. This is the third time in five games Vegas has dressed fewer than 18 skaters, and has lost all three of those games (0-2-1).
“It’s not a reason for losing,” DeBoer said. “We knew coming into this season with the salary cap and injuries and condensed schedule that we were going to have this kind of adversity, so it’s really a non-factor for us.
“No. No frustration. I just have to look down the bench at Pietrangelo and that eases any frustration we might have about lineups.”
But perhaps Martinez’s absence and subsequent lineup of five defensemen was why the defense looked so out of whack early on.
The Blues generated a 3-on-1 on their second shift of the game, thanks in part to some aggressive Vegas defense gone awry. Nicolas Hague took a stab at stopping Vladimir Tarasenko, but missed and allowed Tarasenko to come in with his linemates. He kept it himself and beat Marc-Andre Fleury 48 seconds into the game.
Tarasenko had another good look moments later, a breakaway that Fleury turned away. But the Blues’ rush scoring wasn’t done. Their next goal came from Sammy Blais, who entered the zone with speed and despite finding himself in the middle of a triangle of Golden Knights, fired a wrister high on Fleury to make it 2-0 at the 7:21 mark.
St. Louis scored twice on its first five shots of the game.
“You can’t really spot them two goals early,” Stone said. “We blew them out in their building on Monday. It’s naïve for us to think that they weren’t going to come out and give us their best game.”
Even short-handed, Vegas pushed back well in the second period with little to show for it. The Golden Knights led in shots on goal 21-4 in frame, including a minute-long stretch when Vegas fired five shots on goal.
St. Louis’ Jake Walman scored the first goal of his career with 6:29 remaining in the third period to make it 3-0 and cap St. Louis' scoring. Roy's goal came about two minutes later, his second of the season to snap a 25-game scoreless drought.
Fleury was strong for the Golden Knights, and the main reason why the game was not more lopsided. He turned away Taransenko’s early breakaway, but also covered for a few defensive lapses. He finished with 32 saves.
Still, the loss was the fifth in Fleury’s last six appearances, a stretch encompassing half of his losses for the season.
Vegas' power play struggles continued with an 0-for-4 night, including a 6-on-4 chance late in the game when the Golden Knights pulled Fleury for an extra attacker. It marked 18 consecutive power plays without a goal for Vegas.