Points off turnovers usually is associated with basketball or football, not hockey.
But, in the case of the Golden Knights, the statistic suddenly has become relevant.
The Knights’ ability to force — and capitalize on — mistakes by Winnipeg in the past two games is a primary reason they hold a 2-1 series lead in the Western Conference Final.
Game 4 is at 5 p.m. Friday at T-Mobile Arena.
“I think what happens in hockey games, when they’re playing real well, we make some turnovers. When we’re jumping on them and forcing them to make mistakes, the same thing happens,” Knights coach Gerard Gallant said Thursday at City National Arena following his team’s optional skate.
“Players are going to make mistakes for both teams, and if you can take advantage of it, that’s what usually makes it exciting for the fans.”
Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault has been the prime benefactor of the Jets’ generosity the past two games, scoring three goals directly off turnovers in the neutral zone or at the Knights’ blue line.
In Game 2, Jets forward Kyle Connor had an opportunity to dump the puck into the Knights’ zone with his team looking for a line change late in the first period. Instead, Knights forward Reilly Smith stole the puck at the red line, leading to a breakaway for Marchessault and a 2-0 lead.
During the third period of that game, Winnipeg’s Adam Lowry intercepted a pass near the Knights blue line. But instead of making the simple play and sending the puck deep so the Jets could set up their forecheck, Lowry tried to stickhandle through the legs of Smith.
Smith wasn’t fooled, and the turnover led to a 2-on-1 that Marchessault buried to cap the 3-1 victory.
“I didn’t think we were trying to do too much with the puck,” Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice said. “We’ve had some easily visible turnovers that ended up in the back of our net, but the goals we scored would have come off turnovers as well. When you lose the game, those are the reasons that are pointed to.
“We don’t normally turn the puck over a lot, (but) it’s certainly been front and center the last two games. It’s certainly something we talk about, but I think the results have been more damning than the numbers.”
It was a similar story in Game 3, as Winnipeg’s inability (or, perhaps, reluctance) to get the puck deep in the Knights’ zone proved costly.
In the opening minute, Knights defenseman Brayden McNabb closed down Winnipeg’s high-scoring center Mark Scheifele near the Knights’ blue line and forced him into a bad pass.
McNabb gained possession and whipped the puck ahead where Marchessault outraced Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba before scoring.
Alex Tuch’s second-period goal had similar beginnings, as Connor unsuccessfully tried to dump the puck in deep. Defenseman Nate Schmidt knocked it out of midair, and the Knights quickly transitioned the other way, with James Neal eventually finding Tuch uncovered in front of the Winnipeg net.
“I felt like we skated more. We were more in their face at all times,” Knights forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said. “The forecheck worked better, and if you’re always facing five guys — guys that work as hard as they can — the ice gets smaller and there’s less room.
“I think that’s what we felt the first game. They were skating more than us, and I felt like the last two games, we’ve been skating a little bit more, especially in the beginning of the games.”
The Knights’ pressure was stifling in the first period on Wednesday, as Winnipeg was limited to three shots on goal in the opening 20 minutes.
But the Jets controlled play for most of the final two periods, and the Knights are expecting Winnipeg to make adjustments heading into Game 4.
“We’re a fast team, and I feel we’re playing a hard style right now. I feel that’s a little bit frustrating at times for teams,” Knights defenseman Shea Theodore said. “With how the game went (Wednesday) night, obviously they’re going to change a couple things. It’d be big going up 3-1 for us, and as a team, you never want to go down 3-1 as opposed to having a tied series. We know they’re going to come hard.”
1. Swing game. The Golden Knights had a 2-1 series lead over San Jose but turned in arguably their worst performance of the playoffs in Game 4. Their focus against Winnipeg is to keep the pedal to the medal and head across the border one win from reaching the Stanley Cup Final.
2. Lock up Laine. Winnipeg winger Patrik Laine, who was second in the league in goals during the regular season, has been held scoreless the past two games. Without the second-year standout producing, the Jets have relied too heavily on their first line for offense.
3. Power pellets. The Knights generated four shots on three power-play opportunities in Game 3 and are 2-for-17 on the man advantage in their past six outings. This is like pointing out a pimple on Mila Kunis, but the PP could make a difference Friday.
David Schoen Review-Journal