Updated January 3, 2019 - 2:48 pm
The Golden Knights woke up on Christmas morning and found a suffocating defense in their stocking.
Since the holiday break, the Knights have allowed three goals in going 4-0.
They will look to carry the momentum into Friday’s 7 p.m. game against the Ducks at Honda Center in Anaheim, California.
“Obviously, you’re pretty happy with the team when you play defensive games like we’ve played,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “We haven’t given up a whole lot of chances over the last few games. We’ve got great defensive help and obviously our goalie has been great for us the last three or four games.
“It makes a big difference. We want to play that way. It starts in the defensive zone and when you’re playing good hockey, that’s what happens. I just like the way we’re playing a complete game.”
The commitment to the defensive zone was particularly evident on Tuesday as the Knights limited the Kings to just 17 shots, including four in the second period.
Defenseman Nate Schmidt has felt the improvement and believes it is helping the team on both ends of the ice.
“I think our defense right now is doing a really good job of eliminating plays,” he said. “Through December a little bit, we were letting teams cycle and recycle and wear you down and then you don’t play as well in the offensive zone because you’re worried about trying to shut things down.
“We’re shutting things down a little bit faster I think and that’s just allowing our guys to be more offensive, have a little more energy up in the rush and kill their plays.”
Schmidt’s return after 20 games helped the defensemen settle into more comfortable roles and the impact has been dramatic as the Knights have gone 16-4-3 since he came back. Now their game is truly rounding into where Gallant wants it as they have outscored their opponents 13-3 over the last four games.
“We’ve played real well and it was some of our best games the last couple,” Gallant said. “The more scoring we get, the better. But what I’m most happy with right now is the way everyone is committed to playing defense and doing a good job in the defensive zone.
“That’s where it starts and that’s where the offense starts. The more players you have with talent and skills, it’s definitely going to help you win games, but I love the way we’re playing right now.”
That’s because Gallant has seen his forwards get involved all over the rink.
“Just because we’re called the forwards doesn’t mean we’re not out there to defend, too,” Ryan Reaves said. “That’s the number one end. You have to take care of your end first and then work your way out.”
Reaves can see the impact the defensive intensity has on the opposition.
“When you’re playing tough defense and frustrating teams and not giving them any chances, it’s so tough on your opponent,” he said. “It wears on them. I think right now we’re stopping plays in the neutral zone a lot and if they’re not being stopped in the neutral zone, we’re making them make a play they don’t want to make. Either they’re dumping it in to the wrong spots or they’re just throwing it in there because they don’t have another play.”
The Knights aren’t necessarily doing anything new, just executing as they have wanted to all along.
Gallant believes the three days off the team had for the holiday was a big factor.
“We’re just playing our game,” he said. “We’re playing better, quicker and with more energy. We talked about how before the break we weren’t playing real well. For me, it was about being tired and a lot of road travel.
“After the break, we got refreshed and we’re playing with a lot of jump. That’s the difference to me.”
They will look to keep it going on a brief one-game road trip on Friday.