LAS VEGAS — Marc-Andre Fleury said he doesn’t think “there’s any panic” with his team, but the Vegas Golden Knights are now facing elimination and something is not quite right.
“Obviously not where we want to be, right?” Fleury said after a dismal 4-1 loss at home on Tuesday to the Montreal Canadiens. “But I don’t think there’s any panic. We all wanted to do better tonight, and it’s disappointing. But I put it in the past.”
With the Game 5 loss — Montreal’s second win at Vegas’ vaunted home arena in three tries — the Golden Knights have fallen behind 3-2 in the best-of-seven semifinal series. Game 6 is Thursday in Montreal.
Coach Peter DeBoer turned back to Fleury after benching him in Game 4 in favor of Robin Lehner. While Fleury allowed three goals on 25 shots, goaltending is far from Vegas’ biggest issue. On Tuesday, the Golden Knights had trouble connecting on passes or even getting through the neutral zone — which Montreal was constantly clogging. The Vegas power play has completely fizzled, going 0-for-15 in the series.
Most troubling for Vegas is that it isn’t getting much production out of its forwards, specifically its top six. Max Pacioretty scored a third-period goal against his former team. To that point, Montreal rookie Cole Caufield had scored as many goals in this series (three) as the Golden Knights forward.
Vegas captain Mark Stone had one of his worst nights in Golden Knights uniform, including giving away the puck and then easing up on a backcheck on Montreal’s third goal. Stone, who had a paltry 35.24 expected goals for percentage at 5-on-5 in the loss, has yet to score a point in this series.
“This isn’t a night that we’re going to pile on people,” DeBoer said. “We’ve been on a long playoff road here. We’ve had a lot of unbelievable individual efforts. It was an off night by everybody, everyone is in that boat, not just Mark Stone. So this is about our response.”
The Golden Knights have scored only 11 goals over five games. DeBoer tried some line shuffling to “jumpstart some guys,” though the coach said it “didn’t have much of an effect.”
By the end of the second period, at which point Montreal led 3-0, a faction of the 17,969 fans at T-Mobile Arena booed the Golden Knights off the ice.
“We weren’t playing very well, so maybe we deserved it,” defenseman Brayden McNabb said. “We got outworked from puck drop. It is what it is. Our fans are great, we love our fans. I’m sure they were frustrated, and so were we.”
The Canadiens blocked 18 shots compared to the Golden Knights’ eight. Vegas had 14 giveaways, while Montreal had only four.
“We didn’t play good at all today,” McNabb said. “We played right into their game, we didn’t play our game at all. We know what we need to fix, we know we can win in their building. And we’re going to do that.”
The Golden Knights already won a Game 7 in this postseason, in the first round against the Minnesota Wild. In the second round, Vegas dispatched the Presidents Trophy-winning Colorado Avalanche in six games, finishing the series on a four-game winning streak.
Vegas entered the semifinal series heavily favored, especially since Montreal was a surprise final-four team, having finished the regular season with a .527 safe percentage. However, the Habs are peaking at the right time while Vegas is mired in a puzzling slump.
“We’ve got to find a way; you’ve got to find a way this time of year against good teams, against pressure, against attention, against a good goalie,” DeBoer said. “You’ve got to find a way. Those are the teams that end up standing at the end of the day. They’re a good team, they’re doing some good things, but we’ve got to find some answers. The good news is, we’re still alive. We’ve got to go and win a game and get this back to Game 7. We’ve faced adversity before in the playoffs, we’ve faced elimination before and responded. I know we’re going to be better than we were tonight.”