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3 takeaways from Knights’ loss: Buried in Buffalo; still no Eichel

Updated March 2, 2024 - 8:01 pm

Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy has said multiple times over the past few days that his team has to stop letting bad stretches of hockey snowball into sustained rallies by its opponents.

The message has yet to be received.

After allowing a tie-breaking goal late in the second period to fall behind Saturday, the Knights never recovered and gave up four more in the third period in an ugly 7-2 loss to the Sabres at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, New York.

“They were just outcompeting us,” Cassidy said. “And I think, honestly, a lot of self-inflicted errors again tonight. It’s been a costly road trip for us with that in terms of not managing the puck well at the offensive blue line. Another shot block that came back the other way, another bobbled puck. These are easy goals.”

It marks the second time in the past five games the Knights (33-21-7) have allowed seven goals and the fourth time in the past six they have allowed at least five.

That all adds up to a 2-6-1 mark in their past nine games.

“You can’t outscore your mistakes every night in this league,” Cassidy said. “Teams are good. It happened in Boston. We gave up some easy ones mismanaging the puck. That to me is what happened. Snowballed from there, and Buffalo had lots of life and took advantage. If you give them gifts, they are going to take them.”

There is plenty of blame to go around. While the struggling power-play unit finally found the net on Brendan Brisson’s goal in the second period, the Knights also gave up two short-handed tallies to Dylan Cozens.

Logan Thompson made 28 saves, several of them in key moments and in acrobatic fashion, but he allowed seven to get by him and never really gave the Knights a chance to win.

The defense had trouble breaking the puck out of the zone, which led to an overwhelming edge in offensive zone time for the Sabres (29-28-4) and resulted in several goals that didn’t have to happen.

That was all after a team that has lamented some recent bad starts had already fallen behind 2-0 on a first-period goal by Jeff Skinner and the first of the short-handed goals by Cozens.

“We scored 15 goals this trip, and we have one win,” Cassidy said. “We’re finding ways to create offense with some of our top producers out. Is it at the expense of defense? I don’t think so. I don’t think we’re getting caught up the ice.

“We’re just making poor plays with the puck. We need the healthy group to play better, to execute better and lead this team. That’s our (defensemen). And the goaltenders are healthy. They need to play better and lead this team. That’s where it should start.”

There was a brief glimmer of hope as the Knights rallied with two goals in 2:42.

Brisson, who started on the top line with William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault before rotating with Paul Cotter, scored on the power play. Karlsson followed it up to tie the game; Cotter assisted on both goals.

But the Sabres controlled the game from there, flooding the offensive zone for the next 10 minutes until they were finally rewarded on a Zemgus Girgensons goal.

The Knights fell apart after that.

Kyle Okposo scored early in the third, and Owen Power followed it up four minutes later to trigger the rout.

“It’s a close game and very winnable,” defenseman Brayden McNabb said. “We lay an egg in the third, and that’s what we get. That’s a tough one. Not many words about that. We have to dig deep.”

Here are three takeaways from the loss:

1. Penalty penalized?

The only change in the lineup was Grigori Denisenko getting called up from the AHL affiliate Silver Knights in Henderson to replace Sheldon Rempal, who had played in the past four games.

While Cassidy wasn’t specific about the reason, a clue could be found in his postgame comments from Thursday against Boston.

Rempal had been called for a costly tripping penalty late in the game that led to the game-winning goal for the Bruins.

“For some of the younger guys, being in those moments, those tight games against a good team in the third period how you have to change your game a little bit and manage your game,” Cassidy said of the lessons that needed to be taken away from the loss. “That’s a bit of a learning curve. We’ve got some young guys or guys who haven’t had a lot of NHL experience in these situations. I think they’ve got to be able to settle down and play and make good decisions.”

It was difficult to avoid drawing the obvious line to Rempal’s penalty, even though Cassidy didn’t mention his name.

2. Not quite yet

There had been some hope the Knights would have star center Jack Eichel back in the lineup Saturday.

It didn’t happen.

Eichel, who has not played since Jan. 11 because of surgery on a lower-body injury, practiced in full Friday and was potentially in line to play against his former team.

Cassidy said before the game the team will now aim for either Monday in Columbus or the Knights’ return home against Pacific Division-leading Vancouver on Thursday.

3. Stuck on 300

The Knights became the fastest franchise in history to reach 300 wins when they beat Toronto on Tuesday in their 514th game.

It took Edmonton, the previous record-holder, 542 games to reach the milestone.

The Knights, however, still have 300 wins after 516 games, as they have lost two straight since achieving the feat.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on X.

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