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3 areas Golden Knights must improve to earn NHL playoff spot

Updated March 20, 2024 - 6:34 pm

The Golden Knights think they’ll be in good shape if they play how they did Tuesday.

Coach Bruce Cassidy said the Knights’ 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning was a good team game that just didn’t lead to a good result. But the level of urgency is different than if the season was just getting going in November or December.

The Knights are in March and need points as much as positive feelings. They entered Wednesday three points up on the Minnesota Wild for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference with a game in hand.

“We’re getting farther away from the poor pockets of hockey and better at getting back to our game. That’s an encouraging thing,” Cassidy said. “That’s truer to our identity. We’re getting there.

“I’m positive of where the direction is going of the team.”

The Knights will try to keep their momentum going against the Seattle Kraken on Thursday at T-Mobile Arena. They’ve won three of their past five, a stretch that started with a 5-4 overtime victory in Seattle on March 12.

The Knights trailed the Kraken 4-2 in the third period but came back to win.

This homestand, they’ve defeated the New Jersey Devils 3-1 and then controlled play for most of their loss to the Lightning.

“Take the positives with us for the next game,” center William Karlsson said. “There were some good things we did out there.”

The Knights also have plenty of things they can clean up in their final 14 games to ensure they’ll make the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years.

Here are three areas the team can improve on down the stretch:

1. Power play

The Knights are ranked 22nd in the NHL on the power play at 18.7 percent.

That doesn’t do the state of the unit justice.

The Knights are 6-for-45 (13.3 percent) since the All-Star break. Only the Philadelphia Flyers have been worse. The Knights are also tied for the league lead with five short-handed goals allowed in that span, including one to Lighting center Anthony Cirelli on Tuesday.

Karlsson said turning the power play around has to start with more urgency and a concerted effort to get pucks to the net.

Cassidy said it goes beyond that.

“I think it’s a mindset,” Cassidy said. “I think we force plays. … Our efficiency and passing around to stretch teams and get them out of their coverage, we lack patience there.

“Where we are now is not acceptable. We should be better. I think our players understand that. It’s just getting to buy into the mindset and keep working on it.”

2. Goaltending

Cassidy plans out starts for his goaltenders at the beginning of each month. Who ends up getting more time can depend on who is the hot hand.

There’s no clear leader now. Cassidy said Wednesday that goaltenders Logan Thompson and Adin Hill will both get plenty of games the rest of the way to see if one of them grabs the job.

Hill is 3-8-0 in his past 12 appearances and has an .879 save percentage in that span. He hasn’t allowed two goals or fewer in his past seven starts.

Thompson, expected to start Thursday, hasn’t been much better. He is 2-3-2 in his past seven appearances and has an .879 save percentage in that stretch.

Thompson did show progress in his last game, making 20 saves to beat the Devils. His goal will be to build off that showing against the Kraken.

3. Blue-line play

The Knights have been searching for answers on defense in recent games.

Cassidy shook up the pairs Sunday by replacing Zach Whitecloud and Nic Hague with veterans Ben Hutton and Alec Martinez. The move looks good. Hutton scored Tuesday and has provided a spark.

The Knights need to find a mix that works before the playoffs. One way to give their goaltenders confidence is to play well in front of them. That’s how the team won a Stanley Cup championship last season. The Knights need to figure out a way to achieve similar success in their defensive zone this year.

Contact Danny Webster at dwebster@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DannyWebster21 on X.

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