No longer in control of their own destiny when it comes to winning the West Division or the Presidents’ Trophy, the Vegas Golden Knights travel to San Jose for their regular-season finale against the Sharks on Wednesday night.
Vegas (39-14-2, 80 points) leads the West by two points over Colorado (37-13-4, 78 points), but the Avalanche still have two home games remaining against Los Angeles on Wednesday and Thursday. Should Colorado sweep the Kings, they would claim the No. 1 spot based on the regulation wins tiebreaker, which the Avalanche lead 33-29.
The Golden Knights missed a chance on Monday night to clinch their third division title in four seasons and also win their first Presidents’ Trophy when they lost at home to Colorado 2-1.
Vegas, using just 15 skaters, three fewer than normal, because of salary cap restrictions and injuries, outshot the Avalanche 37-21, but appeared to tire down the stretch — managing just one shot in the final 10 minutes. J.T. Compher scored the game-winner for Colorado at the 11:33 mark of the third period.
Eight Golden Knights logged more than 20 minutes of ice time in the loss, led by defenseman Shea Theodore (29:34) and Alex Pietrangelo (29:08). Vegas had intentionally skated with 17 players for four games to make cap room for star rookie Peyton Krebs, but Krebs fractured his jaw after taking a puck to the face in Saturday night’s win over St. Louis and is out indefinitely after undergoing surgery. Defenseman Alec Martinez, who blocked nine shots in the contest including one in his back that caused his knees to buckle, also was scratched.
“Our decisions are based on who gives us the best chance to win,” Vegas general manager Kelly McCrimmon said before the game when explaining how the Golden Knights became the first team since the New Jersey Devils in 2010 to have 15 or fewer skaters dressed for a game. “We use the term sometimes, ‘salary cap gymnastics,’ that go on over the course of the season.”
Despite being short-handed, the Golden Knights controlled play for most of the first 50 minutes, taking a 1-0 lead on a first-period goal by Pietrangelo. Alex Tuch had a chance to make it 2-0 just 18 seconds later but missed a wide-open net.
“I thought we played pretty well,” said Pietrangelo. “Obviously we were disappointed in the result, but you look at the effort and playing short-handed like that, you’ve got to be real proud sitting in the locker room. It’s not an easy game, especially at this time of year, to play short-handed.”
“I’m just really proud of our group. They battled their (butts) off,” said Vegas coach Peter DeBoer.
Asked by a reporter from The Athletic if his team hit the wall physically in the final 10 minutes, a frustrated DeBoer replied, “Oh, I don’t know. If you guys want to talk about negatives tonight, go ahead. I don’t have anything for you.”
Then asked if a bad line change contributed to Compher’s game-winner, DeBoer answered, “Next question. Next question!” before leaving the podium.
So it will be a frustrated and angry group of Golden Knights who play the Sharks. Vegas is a perfect 7-0 against San Jose this season.
San Jose (21-27-7, 49 points) enters the contest in seventh place but tied with the Kings at 49 points. The Sharks haven’t played since Saturday when they lost to visiting Arizona 5-4 in overtime.
The Sharks, who will be without injured captain Logan Couture for their finale, rallied to tie the game on an Alexander Barabanov goal with 49 seconds left after goalie Alexei Melnichuk, who had 27 saves in his NHL debut, had been pulled for an extra attacker. But Phil Kessel scored 2:30 into overtime to win it for the Coyotes.
“We kept going, and that’s good to see,” said San Jose coach Bob Boughner. “Obviously, points really don’t matter for our club right now. We’re concentrating on the things we’re working on, and guys are fighting hard.”
–Field Level Media