Knights look to end home skid as Leafs visit
So much for the Vegas Flu.
Only the Winnipeg Jets (32) and Pittsburgh Penguins (30) won more regular-season games at home than the Vegas Golden Knights during last year's expansion season and storybook run to a Western Conference title. The theory was that opposing teams might not quite have the same energy after spending a night on the town in Sin City.
But now the joke is on the Golden Knights, who will try and end a franchise record-tying four-game home losing streak on Thursday night against the surging Toronto Maple Leafs.
Vegas, still a respectable 16-8-3 on home ice, is just 1-5-0 in its last six contests at T-Mobile Arena, including a 5-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday night in the second game of a four-game homestand that concludes on Saturday night against the Nashville Predators.
The Golden Knights (31-23-4, 66 points) had been pointing to this February stretch -- which sees them play eight of nine in Las Vegas -- as their big chance to try to catch either first place San Jose (75) or Calgary (74) in the battle for home ice in the first round of the playoffs. But so far, they've fallen apart in the third period in back-to-back losses to Columbus (4-3) and the Coyotes, who scored three unanswered goals after Vegas had rallied to tie it late in the second period.
Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant was unusually late and terse during his postgame press conference, which lasted less than two minutes, after the Arizona loss.
When asked by a reporter what his message was to his team afterward, the normally affable Gallant swept away the postgame stat sheet in front of him and replied: "You think I'm going to tell you what I said? That's none of your business."
Things weren't any cheerier in the Vegas locker room either.
"It's more of the same," defenseman Nate Schmidt said. "Not showing up at home, not finishing games, just a lot of things from our game that are just not characteristic of our group."
"Nobody wants to lose at home," center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare added. "I think we need to play with more desperation. The solution is to come out hard as a team and want it more than the other team."
Next up is a Toronto team that is an eye-popping 18-7-2 on the road, including a perfect 8-0-0 against Western Conference opponents. The Maple Leafs, who won the first meeting with Vegas 3-1 in Toronto on Nov. 6, have won two of their first three games on their current six-game road trip, including a 5-2 win at Colorado on Tuesday night.
After going three games without a power-play goal and riding a 1-for-20 stretch with the man advantage, Toronto blew the game in Colorado open with three power-play goals in a 1:49 span in the second period to take a 4-1 lead. Auston Matthews, the top pick of the 2016 draft, scored his 99th career goal and had two assists, while Frederik Andersen picked up his 26th victory by stopping 34 shots.
"It was great to see our guys be rewarded," Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said after the power-play goal barrage. "It gives them a bit of their swagger back, and obviously it was the difference in the game."
"Down the stretch, come playoff time, those power plays are going to magnify," Nazem Kadri, who scored two goals, said. "It's our jobs to try and capitalize as much as possible."
The Maple Leafs lost 6-3 in their only previous trip to Las Vegas on New Year's Eve in 2017, a game in which William Karlsson scored the first hat trick in Vegas franchise history and added an assist. Matthews also scored twice in the loss.
--Field Level Media
Updated February 13, 2019