The Golden Knights possess the NHL’s best penalty kill unit at home having allowed opponents to score on just more than 10 percent of their opportunities this season.
It let them down at a bad time on Saturday night.
Cam Atkinson fired a shot past Marc-Andre Fleury on the power play with 2:39 remaining in a tied game to lift the Columbus Blue Jackets to a 4-3 win at T-Mobile Arena. The Knights (31-22-4) dropped their third consecutive home game for the first time this season.
“We feel confident in our penalty kill, but sometimes they’re going to slip one through,” Knights forward William Karlsson said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a penalty kill or (even strength) or whatever.
“It still sucks.”
The game-winner was one Fleury would like back.
“It barely missed my glove,” he said. “I think I got a little piece of it. That’s a shot I want to have to keep the game even.
“I’ve got to be better. (There were) a couple of weird bounces but at the end of the day it’s four goals against. It’s frustrating.”
It wasn’t Fleury’s best game, but Atkinson helped will the Blue Jackets (31-20-3) to the road win by taking control down the stretch.
He knotted the game up for the third time with 5:12 remaining when he got past Brayden McNabb then followed up his own rebound and jammed it in the net past Fleury.
“Sometimes good things happen when you drive the net hard,” Atkinson said. “I’ll take that one.”
His heroics were nothing new to Karlsson, a teammate of Atkinson for three years in Columbus.
“Cam does what he does,” Karlsson said. “He’s a good player and he got two goals and won the game for them. What can I say?
“I thought we were the better team in the third period. Two individual efforts by Atkinson won the game for them.”
The loss snapped a two-game overall winning streak for the Knights, who grabbed the lead early in the third period when Cody Eakin trailed a break and one-timed a pass from Pierre-Edouard Bellemare past Sergei Bobrovsky.
It looked like it may hold up until Atkinson’s goals reversed the team’s fortunes.
“I don’t think anything went wrong,” Knights coach Gerard Gallant said. “I think we played a real good third period. They scored two goals. Cam Atkinson’s got some great speed and he made a great play. Just because (McNabb) didn’t catch him … the guy’s got unbelievable feet. It happens and it’s part of the game. And the power-play goal was a great shot. Like I said, it was unfortunate because I thought we played a good first period and a real good third period and they capitalized late.
“It doesn’t happen to us too often but it’s a tough one tonight.”
Artemi Panarin assisted on both of Atkinson’s goals and scored one of his own to tie the game at 2-2 late in a second period controlled by the Blue Jackets.
Josh Anderson opened the scoring for Columbus just 4:04 into the first period, but Nate Schmidt equalized just 32 seconds later. Jon Merrill gave the Knights a lead late in the opening period on a short-handed goal that would hold until Panarin’s tally.
The Knights failed to build on the momentum in a sluggish second period that allowed Columbus to settle in before eventually rallying.
“We didn’t bring our best second period,” Eakin said. “We let them dictate the play. Some turnovers and just kind of irresponsible hockey a little bit. They got some momentum. At the end we couldn’t hold on.”
The Knights will look to snap their three-game home losing streak when they host Arizona on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
1. Shortening the rotation. Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant elected to play just 10 forwards over the final 20 minutes after a disappointing performance in the second period. Valentin Zykov and Tomas Nosek were relegated to the bench in the third period as neither saw a shift. Zykov played a total of 7:52 with Nosek on the ice for just 7:16 in the game.
2. Milestone for Marchessault. Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault earned his 20th assist of the season on Nate Schmidt’s goal in the first period, bringing him to 100 in his NHL career. He has 68 in two seasons with Vegas.
3. Welcome back. Knights forward William Carrier certainly wasn’t shy about throwing his body around in his first game back after missing 12 games with an injury. The physical forward was his usual self as he delivered a game-high eight hits. Despite the missed time, he still leads the league with 227.