The Golden Knights became the first team this season to hold Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid without a point in the same game Saturday.
They kept the Oilers’ vaunted power play from scoring and controlled most of the action at five-on-five.
That made the 3-2 loss in front of an announced crowd of 18,381 at T-Mobile Arena even more difficult to swallow.
“The stretches in the game where we stuck to the plan and did that, I thought we exposed some really good opportunities for ourselves and should’ve had a chance to win,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “We did probably 80 to 85 percent of the things we wanted to do. But in this league against a first-place team, that’s not enough.”
Despite holding the NHL’s two leading scorers in check, the Knights were unable to shut down the Oilers’ transition game and allowed a handful of breakaways and odd-man rushes.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman each took advantage of turnovers in the final 2:10 of the first period and put Edmonton ahead 2-0.
Jesse Puljujarvi flew the zone early and converted a breakaway at 6:39 of the second period for a 3-0 Oilers advantage.
“They’re an opportunistic team and a team that you can’t give that many chances to, so we kind of shot ourselves in the foot with that,” center Chandler Stephenson said. “It just needs to be better.”
Oilers goaltender Mikko Koskinen finished with 36 saves, including a handful of key stops early that prevented the Knights from playing with the lead. His best was a glove save in the first on Jonathan Marchessault, who returned from COVID-19 protocol after missing the past five games.
Reilly Smith scored his team-leading ninth goal early in the third period after Chandler Stephenson scored midway through the second period.
“I think we did a lot of really good things,” Smith said. “Definitely, puck possession time in the O-zone I think was a lot better. I think we just kind of turned a couple of pucks over.”
Here are three takeaways from the game:
1. Top-line turnovers
There was plenty of blame to go around for the Knights’ defensive breakdowns, but Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone each made costly mistakes in the offensive zone leading to goals in the first period.
Pacioretty’s errant pass for Stone was easily intercepted by Oilers defenseman Tyson Barrie, who sent Nugent-Hopkins off to the races on a two-on-one rush with defenseman Zach Whitecloud caught up the ice and only Brayden McNabb back.
Stone whiffed on a pass intended for defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who pinched in from the weak side, and tried to make up for the mistake. But Hyman fought off the backcheck, and his backhand beat Knights goalie Robin Lehner on the breakaway with 15.1 seconds left in the period.
“I don’t think that’s typical Vegas hockey,” Lehner said. “We have to recognize who we’re playing against. It’s probably the best transition team in the league. Zero-zero with two minutes left in the first and a couple odd-man rushes. I wish I had another save. It’s just not us.”
2. Supporting cast
For the second straight meeting against the Oilers, it was the role players who stepped up for Edmonton.
In the Knights’ 5-3 loss on Oct. 22, Hyman scored twice and Zack Kassian tallied the go-ahead goal in the third period.
This time, Hyman received support from Nugent-Hopkins and Puljujarvi, who skated on the third line and matched Hyman with a team-leading six shots on goal.
“There’s more to that team than just those two players (Draisaitl and McDavid),” Smith said. “I think we did a lot of really good things tonight, but when you give those odd-man rushes, sooner or later they’re going to bite you.”
3. Four-point swing
The Knights were able to climb back into the Pacific Division race during November but missed a chance to gain ground on a team ahead of them in the final game of the month.
The Knights are now six points behind Edmonton, which has played one fewer game, and lost both games at home to the Oilers.
Anaheim also leaped over the Knights into third place in the division. The Knights play at the Ducks on Wednesday in another early season four-point game.
“This was a big game for us. Next game is as well,” Lehner said. “It sucks not getting two points, but I thought there was a lot of bright spots.”