For the sixth time in their last seven outings at home, the Vegas Golden Knights drew the short end of the stick and now sport a sub-.500 record at home.
The Buffalo Sabres blitzed the Knights, 3-2, Monday, Dec. 19 from the T-Mobile Arena. Vegas is now 1-6 in its last seven home games and 8-9 at The Fortress overall this season.
“Thank God we’re winning on the road,” right-wing Reilly Smith said. “Because our home record is pretty atrocious.”
This most recent contest between Vegas and Buffalo was a far cry from the first meeting of the season when the Knights came away with a 7-4 win in New York.
Vegas is now 22-11-1 on the year but still sits atop the Pacific Division with 45 points. As of now, the team still occupies the second best slot in the league, record-wise, just behind the Boston Bruins at 25-4-2.
The brief three-game homestand will end Wednesday, Dec. 21 as the Knights welcome in the Arizona Coyotes. Puck drop is slated for 7 p.m.
After holding the league’s top scoring team scoreless in the first period, it took less than two minutes before Buffalo lit the lamp to go up, 1-0. Left-wing Jeff Skinner was the culprit with former Vegas player Alex Tuch assisting on it.
By the 7:15-mark, the Sabres had scored again. This time off the stick of right-wing Tage Thompson, who came into the game second in the league in goals (25) and third in overall points (49).
Four seconds into play after a timeout, Buffalo caught Vegas napping and put in its third goal of the second period for a 3-0 lead.
Coming into the game, the Sabres were 10th in the league in shots for per game while the Knights sat in the 12th slot. By the final horn in this one, Vegas had outshot Buffalo, 43-18.
VGK goalie Adin Hill made his first appearance in nearly a week and just his fourth in the month of December.
“When [the opposing team] gets goalie performances like that [...] we need to match that,” Cassidy said. “If that’s what they’re going to get, we need to match it. If you look around the league, the teams that get those types of performances generally win.”
Hill finished with 15 saves and a save percentage of .833. He is now 8-3-1 on the year after having his three-game win streak snapped.
That scoreless first period provided several opportunities to the VGK offense to score but not until after the team shook things up on the defensive end.
Right-wing Keegan Kolesar, received a boarding penalty after a hit near the wall that caused Buffalo’s Ilya Lyubushkin to do a front flip. Lyubushkin got back to his feet and went straight at Kolesar.
Vegas responded by killing the penalty chance for a team that ranks second in the league on the power play. That boarding call served as the team’s only penalty on the night.
“We did a great job in the first kill,” Cassidy said. “And we didn’t take anymore [penalties] so we’re taking care of that part of the game. But now we’ve got to shut down that line.”
It was the Sabres on the other hand who committed two more penalties in the final 11:42 of the first period. However, the Knights could not make the visitors pay, going 0-for-2 in power play situations.
“That [would’ve been] nice,” Smith said about those missed chances. “Falling down one or two goals in the first period is always tough. Catchup isn’t easy in this league and when we’re scoring first I think we’re a really hard team to beat. We have to make sure we’re cashing in on those opportunities.”
Vegas is averaging 2.3 goals at home this season versus 4.2 on the road.
The first best chance for Vegas to get on the scoreboard came in a one-on-one opportunity for captain Mark Stone in the second period. But it was Buffalo goalie, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who made one of his 41 saves on the night to keep the home team scoreless. He finished with a save percentage of .953.
“Obviously we created a lot of pretty good looks,” Cassidy said. “My scouting report right now is he’s a pretty good damn goaltender.”
Vegas missed another prime chance in the final period when center Jonathan Marchessault had a penalty shot go awry after a kick save from Luukkonen.
“I mean, how many chances did we have tonight?” Smith asked. “It was just one of those nights where it’s not going in. I thought we battled hard and created a lot of good looks in the third period. It just wasn’t our night.”
Fighting with their backs against the wall, the Knights muscled out two third period goals, the first off which came from center Chandler Stephenson. With the team down three, Stephenson found the net for his eighth goal of the season to avoid the team’s first shutout loss of the season.
The last time Vegas was shutout was April 16 of this year. The last time the team was shutout at home was Feb. 16 of this year.
Stephenson extended his point streak to five games with two goals and six assists.
Smith scored the team’s final goal of the night with 2:21 left in regulation.
Smith lit the lamp, scoring his fifth goal in the last three games. In addition, he has scored seven points in the last four contests.
He now has 17 goals this year.
Center Jack Eichel missed his fifth straight game after being placed on injured reserve with a lower-body injury. In addition, fellow center Paul Cotter and defenseman Shea Theodore were out of action as well.
“Early on we missed some open nets in the power play,” Cassidy said. “You’d hope with the level of players missing that those will even out. That’s the hope, that they’ll keep generating and at some point we’ll finish those goals."