When things go bad, it takes a strong locker room to get through it.
The Golden Knights may have stopped the bleeding of a three-game losing streak with Sunday’s 3-2 overtime win over Arizona, but it doesn’t mean they’re in the clear.
The Knights (16-9-1) face a challenge Tuesday at T-Mobile Arena in the Anaheim Ducks, before back-to-back road games at Nashville on Friday and Dallas on Saturday.
So what helped the Knights put the brakes on the losing streak? And what can help them keep from falling backward again this week?
In a word, leadership.
The veteran players in the locker room are keeping everyone accountable and there has been no finger-pointing or excuse-making. The ironic thing about that is this is a team that does not have a captain, preferring to spread the leadership responsibilities between six players.
“I think it’s worked out pretty well,” coach Gerard Gallant said Monday. “We have good leaders. We have no issues with our team. They like each other. They enjoy coming to the rink every day.”
Veteran defenseman Deryk Engelland said the fact that everyone buys in makes being a leader easier.
“We’ve got a lot of character here and that’s what kept the skids to a minimum,” he said. “You just try and lead by example and show the younger guys the way, and I think the leaders in our room have done a good job of that.”
Defenseman Luca Sbisa said it’s the little things, like a few encouraging words quietly on the side to someone who’s struggling or just being there in a supportive role.
“You’ve got to know the right time when to say something,” he said. “A lot of the leaders in our room have been around and learned from pretty good players.”
It would be easy to play the injury card as an excuse. Starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury sustained a concussion on Oct. 13 and has missed 22 straight games. The Knights also are without high-scoring veteran forward David Perron, who has been out since Nov. 25 with an upper-body injury. His six goals and 19 points have been missed and his absence forced Gallant to shuffle his lineup to find someone to play with Erik Haula and James Neal.
Perron practiced Monday and could be back in the lineup as early as Tuesday against the Ducks. Fleury skated and worked out for the third day in a row and could participate in a full practice Wednesday.
The Knights are also without rugged right wing Will Carrier who has been a member of the team’s hard-working fourth line of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Tomas Nosek that has been consistently effective. Carrier, who was injured Nov. 25 at Arizona, is also on the IR with an upper-body injury.
Every team struggles at some point during an 82-game season. But the Knights have kept the lulls to a reasonable number. They had their 1-4-1 stretch on the East Coast road trip in late October-early November and they snapped the recent three-game skid Sunday.
“Look at Montreal. They were struggling. Now they’ve won five straight,” Gallant said. “Nobody likes to lose two, three in a row. But that happens during a season. You try to end those losing streaks as quickly as possible.”
■ Who: Ducks vs. Golden Knights
■ When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
■ Where: T-Mobile Arena
■ TV: AT&T SportsNet (Cox 313/1313, DirecTV 684, CenturyLink 760/1760, U-verse 757/1757)
■ Radio: KRLV (98.9 FM, 1340 AM); ESPN Deportes (1460 AM)
■ Line: Golden Knights minus-140; Over 5 1/2 minus-125
1. Heavy Ducks. In the first meeting Nov. 22 in Anaheim, the Ducks outhit the Knights 24-22. Look for Randy Carlyle’s team to employ similar tactics Tuesday as they’ll look to slow the Knights.
2. Power play woes. The Knights never had a chance to work their power-play Sunday against Arizona. The Coyotes deserve credit for staying out of the penalty box, but the Knights need to draw a few more penalties, then cash in. They are currently in an 0 for 11 power-play slump in their last five games.
3. Perron’s return? Forward David Perron has not been in the lineup since sustaining an upper-body injury Nov. 24. He could be activated from the injured reserve list Tuesday and his return to the line of Erik Haula and James Neal would be big boost.
Steve Carp Las Vegas Review-Journal