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Graney: Golden Knights star players are again MIA

Updated June 18, 2021 - 10:14 pm

The Golden Knights are like any NHL team still alive in the playoffs. They own a definite level of star power.

Not that you would know it right now.

The Knights lost to Montreal 3-2 in overtime of a best-of-seven semifinal series Friday night at Bell Centre, where a majority of those expected to guide the visitors failed miserably.

You usually get what you earn this time of year. You can also be Montreal, which leads the series 2-1 because it was willing to accept a gift-wrapped victory.

Montreal or Dallas?

It’s not enough sometimes to be the better side five-on-five for around 58 of 60 regulation minutes, which the Knights were. Not when your most important players can’t execute when winning is at stake.

This column could have been led with a dateline of Edmonton, Alberta, given how much this series is beginning to resemble a conference finals loss to Dallas in last season’s playoff bubble.

The guys being paid millions and millions of dollars to score aren’t getting it done yet again.

Top liners in Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty. Misfit liners in Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson. A third-first-third liner in Alex Tuch.

They can’t find net.

In three games against Montreal, they haven’t lit a lamp. Not one. Shots were 6-0 in favor of the Knights early Friday. And then 15-2. And then 17-3. And then 24-5. And then 30-8.

And at that point, score was 1-1.

Final number of shots for the Knights: 45. Canadiens: 27.

“We have to capitalize on scoring chances,” Stone said. “We had lots of looks. We have to bear down. Starting from the top, we have to score goals. There is a lot of us that have to figure that part out.”

The team’s star in net also played a massive part in the loss with a massive blunder.

Marc-Andre Fleury misplayed a puck behind his net with 1:55 remaining in regulation, an awful gaffe that Canadiens forward Josh Anderson calmly slid into the net to force extra time.

Fleury’s play in the opening period of Game 1 allowed the Knights a lead in the series. But he admittedly made a bad decision to use a poke check on a Paul Byron breakout in Game 2. Byron evaded the stick and scored what would be the game-winner of a 3-2 final.

Fleury’s mistake on Friday was far more egregious.

Part of what makes him so popular is the flair by which he performs. His athleticism, even at age 36, remains elite. But he hasn’t made the greatest of decisions when playing the puck the last few games.

This time, Fleury paid dearly for it. A killer, for sure.

“He stood on his head for us all season,” Knights forward Reilly Smith said. “Goals like that are going to happen with bad bounces. We should have done a better job in overtime closing it out.”

While they’re at it, they can also try to improve what is an atrocious power play right now.

Also where those star players exist.

This Knights are 0-for-10 on the man advantage in the series, 4-for-38 in these playoffs and — wait for it — 15-for-107 since April 1.

No foolin’.

Lots of issues

Smith was asked about the numbers: He said the team’s breakouts have been bad, it’s not handling pressure, it’s not releasing the puck well and it’s not crashing the net and picking up rebounds.

So, you know, that’s all.

“I loved our game,” Knights coach Pete DeBoer said of its five-on-five play. “If we can play like that for the next week, I have a hard time believing they’re going to beat us two more times. We have to go back and look at it and take a lot of the real good stuff we did tonight.”

What he has to do is get his star players up front going. The best ones supposedly thrive in such moments.

Not happening right now. Didn’t happen against Dallas in this particular round, either.

So far, when it comes to those guys, the repeat is a rerun.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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