The Golden Knights are so hungry for a win after dropping seven of their past nine games and a franchise-record five straight at home that they can almost taste it.
But an opportunity to end the skid won’t be served up on a silver platter, as a difficult matchup with Nashville is next on the menu when the Predators invade T-Mobile Arena for a 7 p.m. game Saturday.
“It’s mostly about yourself,” Knights forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said. “There’s only so much you can focus on the other side. We’ve had a few games where we played the right way and a few we didn’t. The goal is for us to find our bite or find something to just change the picture of the game in our favor.”
It’s unclear whether the choice of words was intentional, but the specter of “Bitegate” will be hanging over the first meeting of the Western Conference powers since the Predators won 2-1 on Jan. 23 at T-Mobile.
The game is remembered more for an incident involving Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban and Bellemare. Subban accused Bellemare of biting his finger. Bellemare said Subban’s hand just happened to go inside his mouth during a brief scuffle and scrape his teeth. Replays were inconclusive.
Subban vehemently protested with officials until Knights forward Ryan Reaves intervened and Subban quickly retreated.
The scene provided a few days of fun for blogs and social media, especially when a billboard mocking Subban was placed in Las Vegas.
If the players and coaches are to be taken at their word, it’s a forgotten issue ahead of the rematch.
“Please,” Knights coach Gerard Gallant said in a scoffing tone. “Attention for (the media), not for us. We’re trying to win a hockey game. Seriously, it’s the first time I’ve heard about it since (a few days after) the incident happened. It’s not crossing my mind one iota for tomorrow’s game.”
The players involved mostly agreed.
“I don’t really care. I didn’t really think about it after it was done. We’re obviously not where we want to be, and we want to get back to it,” said Reaves, who added that the billboard did make him laugh.
Even Malcolm Subban, the Knights’ backup goaltender who was on injured reserve at the time, downplayed the significance of a teammate almost fighting his brother.
“It’s just hockey,” said Malcolm Subban, who added that his mother will be in Las Vegas for the game. “When you’re on the ice, no friends.
“I’m on Vegas, so that’s who I’m rooting for.”
Reaves reiterated that it was a dead issue to him unless P.K. Subban decides to address it on the ice.
“We’ll see what he has to say about it, but he’s got to remember I’m on the ice when (Bellemare) is on the ice,” Reaves said casually.
Gallant has bigger things to worry about, too. He shook up the lines at Friday’s practice and indicated it might carry over to Saturday’s game.
The first and fourth lines remained intact, but Max Pacioretty and Brandon Pirri switched spots, with Pacioretty playing with Cody Eakin and Oscar Lindberg, and Pirri with Paul Stastny and Alex Tuch.
Pacioretty and Tuch each recorded minus-3s in Thursday’s loss to the Maple Leafs.
“We’ll decide tomorrow, but when you’re losing, you have to try new things,” Gallant said. “I’d like to have four lines that stay together every day and win hockey games. When that doesn’t happen, you have to make adjustments.”
Who: Predators at Golden Knights
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
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 -105; total 5½
1. What’s in the box? Far too often during the past few games, the answer to that question has been one of the Golden Knights’ players. The Knights have one of the NHL’s best penalty kill units, but they are putting far too much pressure on the unit. Toronto had six power-play opportunities Thursday and scored twice. The Knights have surrendered power-play goals in five straight games and allowed 20 power plays during that span.
2. Finish strong. The Knights again faltered down the stretch Thursday, giving up three late goals in a 6-3 loss after tying the score early in the third period. They have been outscored 16-4 in the third period in the past nine games and are 2-7 in those games.
3. Settle down. It’s important for the Knights to focus on what lies ahead and not let the mounting losses become a mental obstacle. “When you make a mistake on the ice and you give a power play or something like that, physically it’s about not moving your legs,” forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said. “But at the same time, it’s about us maybe being scared to make a mistake or maybe pushing forward too much and allowing openings on the back end.”
Adam Hill Review-Journal