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3 keys to Knights’ hot start as Stanley Cup champions

The Golden Knights defeated the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 in a shootout Monday to improve to 9-0-1, extending the best start in franchise history and maintaining their spot as one of the NHL’s last two unbeatens in regulation.

They were right back to work the next day.

The Knights, despite having two days before their next game Thursday against Winnipeg, held a skills-based practice Tuesday at City National Arena because they think their execution has been off. It wasn’t only coach Bruce Cassidy saying that. The players also voiced it when Cassidy met with five members of the leadership group Tuesday.

They want to keep building their game despite taking 19 of a possible 20 points. They believe they still have another level to reach.

“I like that we’ve found ways to win without necessarily playing at our best,” defenseman Alec Martinez said. “I also think that we’re not fooling ourselves in here that our game is where we want it to be.”

The start ensures the Knights will attempt to keep progressing from a position of strength, as 8-0-1 Boston is the only team within touching distance of them in the standings right now. The start was also possible because of some standout performances in key areas.

Here are three reasons the Knights’ first 10 games went so well:

1. Depth scoring

Defending the Knights must feel like a cartoon character attempting to stop a leak.

Any time one hole gets plugged, another spurt pops up.

The Knights are so dangerous because they don’t rely on any one player or any one line to get the job done. They’re tied for the NHL’s ninth-best scoring average (3.5 goals per game), but none of their skaters has scored multiple goals in a game.

Their title of leading goal scorer is shared by six players — centers William Karlsson, Jack Eichel and Nicolas Roy, right wing Jonathan Marchessault, left wing Paul Cotter and defenseman Shea Theodore. They have three each.

The Knights have 18 players with goals and 22 with points. Both figures lead the NHL. Getting contributions from everywhere has helped them pile up wins despite slow starts from some of their top forwards, such as captain Mark Stone (seven points), Marchessault (five) and left wing Ivan Barbashev (two).

“There’s always a line that gets us going,” center Chandler Stephenson said. “It’s not always the same line or the same two lines. Once one line gets us going, then we seem to kind of roll.”

2. Tendy tandem

Cassidy and goaltending coach Sean Burke plot out who is going to start each game on a month-by-month basis.

They couldn’t have scripted October any better.

Adin Hill and Logan Thompson have looked excellent. They’ve helped the Knights put up the second-best team save percentage in the NHL at .926 while allowing the third-fewest goals per game.

It’s been close to an even split.

Hill has started six games since signing a two-year, $9.8 million extension in the offseason. He’s 5-0-1, allowing 13 goals while putting up a .923 save percentage.

Thompson has started the Knights’ other four games. The 26-year-old has looked sharp despite not finishing a game after the All-Star break last season because of lower-body injuries. He is 4-0-0 with nine goals allowed and a .930 save percentage.

“Right now, we have no complaints about either guy,” said Cassidy, who added an 8-6 or even 7-7 split is likely in November if both goalies are healthy. “They’re both doing their job very well.”

3. Special teams look more special

The Knights proved last season teams can win a championship without an amazing power play or penalty kill. That doesn’t mean they weren’t an outlier.

The Knights were the first Stanley Cup champion to finish in the bottom half of the NHL on both special-teams units since the 2010-11 Boston Bruins. They knew that needed to be an area of focus if they wanted to repeat, and they’re looking a lot better.

The power play is 8-for-35 (22.9 percent). It has scored multiple goals in three games, after doing so only eight times last season.

The penalty kill, however, is the real revelation. Despite being down key personnel — left wing Reilly Smith left in the offseason, and Martinez and defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Zach Whitecloud have missed games — the Knights are 26-for-29 (89.7 percent). They’ve given up a power-play goal in just three of 10 games.

“That’s just commitment, right?” Stone said. “Our D are committed to blocking shots, our forwards are committed to going out there and grinding it out.”

Contact Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.

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