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Knights’ short-handed specialists spread work on penalty kill

Updated October 21, 2018 - 6:51 pm

Brayden McNabb scrolled through the mental Rolodex from his hockey career to put the Golden Knights’ depth of penalty killers into context.

The defenseman came up blank.

“I don’t know if I’ve played on teams where there’s three or four (forward) units and they just roll them over,” McNabb said.

The Knights’ bottom-six is full of forwards who are capable of playing short-handed. Rather than having them fight for the minutes, coach Gerard Gallant is spreading the penalty-killing ice time throughout the group.

After eight games, the Knights have six forwards on pace to log more than 100 minutes of time on the ice while short-handed.

That might be a reflection of the Knights taking too many penalties, but Gallant’s quick-change philosophy also differs from some of the top penalty-killing teams from last season.

“I think most teams have three units is what they usually do,” Gallant said. “I just think there’s a lot of guys that play a two-way game for us. There’s a lot of guys we trust there, and they do the job real well and they get an opportunity to do it.

“It means a lot of when those guys go out there and do their job. It’s a tough job, too. You’re blocking shots. … They do a good job, they work hard and they take a lot of pride in it.”

The Los Angeles Kings led the NHL in penalty killing last season at 85 percent and had three forwards (Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Trevor Lewis) play more than 100 minutes while short-handed.

The San Jose Sharks were No. 2 on the penalty kill (84.8 percent) and relied primarily on two forward units with Chris Tierney, Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture and Melker Karlsson.

New Jersey, which ranks in the top five in penalty killing through six games after finishing eighth last season, also leans heavily on four forwards to kill penalties.

Last season, the Knights had five forwards (Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, William Karlsson, Cody Eakin, Reilly Smith and Tomas Nosek) total more than 100 minutes of ice time short-handed.

“They’ve been together for a year now, so the coaches do a great job with teaching points,” said McNabb, who tops all Knights players in short-handed ice time. “They work well together. They get in shot lanes and they use their speed to attack and make things uncomfortable for the other team’s power play. It helps us as defensemen to be able to read off them.”

The Knights have successfully killed 11 straight opposition’s power plays since allowing two goals with the man advantage against Washington’s top-ranked unit in a 5-2 loss Oct. 10.

Bellemare and Nosek lead all Knights forwards in short-handed ice time. Ryan Carpenter and Eakin have earned more penalty-killing shifts, and Gallant also has the luxury of sending Karlsson and Smith over the boards together.

“One of the strengths of this team is two of those units are bottom-six guys,” Bellemare said. “Having bottom six in there, we create ‘I’ve been waiting a while. So, when it’s my time to go, I’m ready to (penalty) kill.’ The more guys we have to devote to the kill the better.”

The Knights blanked Buffalo on six power-play attempts in a 4-1 victory Tuesday and went 2-for-2 against Anaheim on Saturday.

The Ducks had been 4-for-9 on the power play in four road games.

“We have pretty good chemistry from us and we know what to expect from each other, so that helps a lot,” Nosek said. “We have fresh legs and we have a little competition between these players, so it’s always fun.”

More Golden Knights: Follow all of our Golden Knights coverage online at reviewjournal.com/GoldenKnights and @HockeyinVegas on Twitter.

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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