The second season of the Vegas Golden Knights came with a lot to live up to, what with their storybook inaugural season taking them all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. In 2018-2019, Vegas came back down to Earth. They finished with a 43-32-7 record, good for third in the Pacific Division and seventh in the Western Conference.
The Golden Knights built into the 2018-2019 season by making a few additions, signing Paul Stastny on July 1 of 2018 and trading for Max Pacioretty in September. They also acquired Mark Stone as part of Ottawa’s relentless sell-off.
Offensively, the Golden Knights scored 249 goals. That was well shy of the 272 goals they scored in 2017-2018, but it still put them sixth in the Western Conference and two goals ahead of the St. Louis Blues.
Vegas had five players with 20 goals or more, but zero players with over 25 goals. Alex Tuch, Pacioretty, Cody Eakin, William Karlsson, and Jonathan Marchessault were atop the goal-scoring ladder, with Marchessault leading the way with 25. He also led the way in overall points with 59.
Karlsson was second on the team with 56 points, while Reilly Smith had 53 points and sat just outside the 20-goal threshold with 19. New hire Stastny had 42 points, while Pacioretty amounted to 40 points in 66 games.
The Golden Knights like to share the scoring around and that can be a good thing because it allows head coach Gerard Gallant the option to roll through his entire rotation. But the lack of a legitimate scoring threat, at least a consistent one, shone through in 2018-2019.
And Vegas couldn’t make up the difference on the power play either, which clicked at a disappointing 16.8 percent – below the league average.
Defensively, the Golden Knights were formidable. They allowed just 230 goals against, just a small step behind the 228 goals they allowed in 2017-2018.
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury started 61 games and snagged 35 wins. He posted a goals against average of 2.51 and a save percentage of .913, which put him off his historic mark in his first season in Vegas but still represented above-average stats. Fleury produced eight shutouts.
Malcolm Subban backed him up and accounted for 20 starts, winning eight games. The 25-year-old took a step back in 2018-2019, with a goals against average of 2.93 and a save percentage of .902.
The Golden Knights clinched their playoff spot in March and went on to face the San Jose Sharks in the first round. They lost in seven games after leading three games to one. It was a wild series, one that even saw Vegas up 3-0 in Game Seven before dropping the game thanks in large part to the Sharks scoring four goals on one power play.
So, what went wrong?
Simply put, the Golden Knights dropped the ball. Regardless of how “fair” something is in the sport of hockey, teams have to contain themselves and kill penalties. Vegas was above average on the PK during the regular season, but when it came to the post-season they let a collapse sting them and it cost them everything.
Sometimes intangibles can cost a whole season and that’s by and large what happened to the Golden Knights against the Sharks.
Looking ahead, it’s hard to say what can be done to prevent such a collapse. But Vegas is going ahead with Kelly McCrimmon as their new general manager. The roster is mostly the same and they’ve got their critical pieces under contract, so the GM will have time to get acclimatized to hockey in Vegas. That’s a good thing.
The third season in franchise history is critical for Vegas in more ways than one, but the top priority has to be proving that they are not going to take another dip in the standings. They dropped the ball on nearly all vital metrics in 2018-2019 and they’ll have to gain some ground if they want to be seen as a daunting playoff foe. A little luck won’t hurt, either.
Photo credit: NHL.com