LAS VEGAS – Jack who?
Jack Eichel generated a ton of hype with his return to the NHL with the Vegas Golden Knights, but he made not a lickspittle bit of difference tonight for the cap-circumventing Knights as the Colorado Avalanche shut them out 2-0 at T-Mobile Arena.
Eichel looked as rusty as a 1976 Dodge Dart, and Darcy Kuemper got the whitewash victory for Colorado.
Mikko Rantanen’s power-play goal late in the third period salted a game away that, despite the close final score, never really seemed in doubt for the Avs.
Kuemper made 29 saves, while Eichel had no points, one shot on net and took four minutes of penalties. He made as much difference for Vegas tonight as he did in his six seasons with the Buffalo Sabres in which he led them to…zero playoff games, before pouting his way out of town.
Avs got goals from Rantanen and Gabe Landeskog, and while they weren’t overwhelming offensively, they didn’t need to be. The Avs’ defense pretty much smothered Vegas’ top two lines, keeping most everything to the perimeter. When Vegas did get a decent chance, Kuemper looked big in net.
Avs coach Jared Bednar said Kuemper looked “solid” and “calm” in goal. Vegas definitely doesn’t look as good a team as last year, though we shouldn’t judge them on their roster probably at the moment. First off, they didn’t have No. 1 goalie Robin Lehner in net tonight. Second, the Golden Knights are playing the “Kucherov” loophole with captain Mark Stone, as he rests his allegedly aching back coincidentally at just the moment they would have had to clear some serious cap room to fit Eichel in.
The Golden Knights also appear to be sitting value D-man Alex Martinez because of cap issues. GM Kelly McCrimmon is shedding crocodile tears over his team’s injury situation right now, but nobody is fooled. Vegas is doing the same thing Tampa Bay did last year with Nikita Kucherov to try and game the system until the playoffs, when there is no more cap.
Cale Makar got two assists in the victory, and Nathan MacKinnon got one. MacKinnon also crushed Vegas forward Nolan Patrick with a big open-ice hit early in the game. That earned an interference penalty for MacKinnon, but Kuemper and the suddenly red-hot Avs PK unit kept the Golden Knights to the same score on the board as they would the rest of the night.
A goose egg.