Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant was clearly agitated with his team after it suffered a franchise record-tying fourth consecutive home loss on Tuesday night.
He appeared even more displeased when he was informed his players had acknowledged his postgame tirade to reporters.
“The players (told you that)?” Gallant asked. “Typical.”
He went on to tell the media the details of the message he delivered were “none of (their) business.”
Gallant’s angst is understandable. The Knights have dropped six out of their last eight games and have daunting matchups with Toronto and Nashville, starting with the Maple Leafs visiting T-Mobile Arena at 7 p.m. Thursday.
On the positive side, the Knights look poised to claim a playoff berth as they sit nine points ahead of fourth-place Vancouver for the last guaranteed spot in the Pacific Division entering play Wednesday night.
But they will have to start cleaning things up if they want to challenge for the Stanley Cup again.
As the Knights try to avoid a fifth straight home loss, here are five fixes to pressing issues coming down the stretch:
1. Find some ‘jam’ to their game
A lot goes into being harder to play against, which is the crux of what Nate Schmidt is getting at with the term “jam.” There is a physical aspect — “Get that lumber in his teeth. Let him know you’re there!” to quote Reggie Dunlop — and a style component, as well. The Knights’ speed has not been as evident when they have the puck with teams clogging the neutral zone, and opposing defensemen are too comfortable breaking out against the Knights’ 1-2-2 forecheck. General manager George McPhee might have to look outside the organization for a solution before the Feb. 25 trade deadline.
2. Address the third period issues
Is this a glitch in the matrix or a troublesome pattern? Because it sort of feels like the former. The loss to Arizona on Tuesday was a classic trap game, with Toronto in town Thursday and the first meeting with Nashville since Bitegate on the horizon for Saturday. Columbus and Minnesota are playoff teams. Florida got a breakaway on bad ice. If the Knights were getting stomped like Anaheim, there might be reason for concern. Rather, the Knights are fifth in the league with a .909 winning percentage (20-0-2) when leading after two periods, and their five wins when trailing after two periods is tied for seventh.
3. Don’t get comfortable
It’s on Gallant and his staff to eradicate the complacency that’s set in. Home-ice advantage in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs remains attainable with two head-to-head meetings against Calgary next month. If third place in the Pacific Division is inevitable, then it’s time to rest goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to ensure he’s fresh for the postseason. The Knights have shown little faith in oft-injured Malcolm Subban, but a few starts for the backup could force the Knights to find their game, rather than rely on their Vezina Trophy candidate to bail them out.
4. Create havoc
Checking-line centers such as Pierre-Edouard Bellemare can talk all they want about interferring with a goaltender’s sightline and getting bodies to the blue paint, but it only carries so much weight. Plain and simple, the first line of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith needs to produce more. Karlsson and Marchessault have combined for 75 points in 58 games; Marchessault had 75 by himself last season. They’ve allowed 23 goals during 5-on-5, matching their total from last season when they were one of the best lines in the league.
5. Keep your hands to yourself
Bellemare, one of the Knights’ best penalty killers, was in the box when Arizona scored its power-play goal on Tuesday. Columbus’ Cam Atkinson is an All-Star with 31 goals and Tampa Bay has the best power play in the league but couldn’t score in the third with the game at stake. Not long ago, the Knights killed off 12 penalties in a row, so let’s not overreact to a slight dip in special teams. The bigger issue is on the power play, where the Knights rank 20th overall. They lack a pure goal-scoring threat with the man advantage, as Karlsson and Marchessault have five PP goals each.
— Who: Golden Knights vs. Maple Leafs
— When: 7 p.m. Thursday
— Where: T-Mobile Arena
— TV: AT&T SportsNet (Cox 313/1313, DirecTV 684, CenturyLink 760/1760, U-verse 757/1757, Dish 414/5414)
— Radio: KRLV (98.9 FM, 1340 AM); ESPN Deportes (1460 AM)
— Line: Knights -120; total 6½
1. Proper response. The Knights were called out by coach Gerard Gallant after Tuesday’s loss and, as noted previously, have lost four games in a row at T-Mobile Arena. If the skid gets to five, it will be the longest home losing streak in franchise history.
2. Unlikely help. The Knights offense remains in a funk, and a timely goal from the fourth line would certainly help. Ryan Reaves has one goal since Dec. 27, while center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare hasn’t scored since Dec. 4. William Carrier missed more than a month, but he’s goalless since Dec. 29.
3. Flight plan. The Maple Leafs are clinging to second place in the Atlantic Division and coming off a 5-2 victory over Colorado on Tuesday. Toronto scored three power-play goals in 1:49 of game time during the second period and is 18-7-2 on the road, the second-best away record in the league.
David Schoen Review-Journal