When the NHL schedule was released in June, the Nevada Day matchup between the Golden Knights and Tampa Bay was billed as a possible preview of the Stanley Cup Final.
At the moment, only one team looks like a championship contender.
The Knights made a strong push in the third period, but continued to scuffle on offense in a 3-2 loss to the Atlantic Division-leading Lightning on Friday at T-Mobile Arena.
“I thought we showed a little bit too much respect early in the game,” Knights coach Gerard Gallant said. “I thought we played a pretty good game overall for the most part, but the third period is the way we’ve got to play. We’d like to play like that for 60 minutes, and I think we won’t be at the losing end too often if we play like that.”
Defenseman Shea Theodore scored in the first period, and William Karlsson tallied on the power play early in the third for the Knights, who dropped their second in a row to fall below .500 at 4-5-1.
The Knights have scored two goals or fewer in eight games. They rank 29th in the NHL in goals per game (2.10) after finishing fifth in that category last season.
And they could be without left wing Max Pacioretty, who took a hard hit from Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn early in the first period and did not return.
“The first two periods, we were only OK,” Karlsson said. “In the third, we really showed what we can do. I think we learned from this one that we need to be there for the full 60 minutes. You can’t just show up in the third.”
The Knights, who wore their white jerseys for the holiday game, had a huge edge in shot attempts (26-9) and shots on goal (13-1) in the third period.
Karlsson ignited the announced crowd of 18,207 when he zipped a shot past Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy at 1:47 of the third after Alex Tuch won a faceoff.
It was the third power-play goal for the Knights’ struggling unit and came against the league’s top-ranked penalty kill.
The Knights’ best chance to tie the game came less than two minutes after Karlsson’s goal, but Oscar Lindberg was turned away by Vasilevskiy (29 saves) on a breakaway.
“Our goalie was there when we needed him, and it’s a big win in a tough spot on the road,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “He was nominated for the Vezina (Trophy) last year, and that wasn’t by fluke. When we have our breakdowns, he’s been a rock for us.”
Tampa Bay extended its point streak to seven games (6-0-1) and leads the NHL in points percentage at .833.
Tyler Johnson and Brayden Point had first-period goals, and J.T. Miller scored a power-play goal at 4:47 of the second period to put Tampa Bay ahead 3-1.
The Knights challenged for offside, but NHL officials ruled “there was no conclusive evidence to show that J.T. Miller was offside prior to his goal.”
“It was a tough call,” Gallant said. “It wasn’t like it was a clear offside. They weren’t sure themselves, and they couldn’t overturn it with the evidence. It was close. It was worth the gamble at that time.”
Theodore, who scored the game-winner in a memorable 4-3 home victory over Tampa Bay on Dec. 19, bounced back from a poor game against Vancouver on Wednesday.
Theodore had a team-high five takeaways and notched the first goal by a Knights defenseman at 5:31 of the first when he ripped a shot through a screen by Lindberg to tie the score at 1.
“They were just better overall in the first two periods,” center Erik Haula said. “They were quicker, and they were on the attack and we were a little bit passive, and that resulted in them having the puck a lot in the first two periods. It kind of switched in the third, and I thought it was very noticeable.”
1. New look. Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant made three changes to his lineup. Defenseman Deryk Engelland returned after missing the past three games, and forward Ryan Carpenter was back after he sat out Wednesday because of illness. Also, Oscar Lindberg made his first appearance since Oct. 10.
2. In the clear? Knights defenseman Colin Miller split two Tampa Bay players midway through the second period and was hauled down, but no penalty shot was awarded. “They just said it was two guys real close to him and they didn’t think it was a penalty shot,” Gallant said.
3. Hedman hurt. Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman was injured early in the second period and did not return. The reigning Norris Trophy winner was sent airborne on a hard hit from Knights forward Ryan Reaves and landed awkwardly against the boards.
David Schoen Review-Journal