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3 takeaways from Knights’ loss: Poor coverage causes hats to fly

Updated January 22, 2023 - 8:54 pm

The Golden Knights’ first trip to Mullett Arena on Sunday wasn’t supposed to end with the home fans throwing hats on the ice.

The Knights were coming off a dominant 6-2 win against the Washington Capitals on Saturday. They felt like they found their game again. And next on the schedule was the team with the 29th-best record in the NHL by points percentage.

The Arizona Coyotes didn’t lie down, however. They bit. The Coyotes defeated the Knights 4-1 in Tempe, Arizona, with left wing Clayton Keller recording his second career hat trick.

Arizona won for only the second time in its past 13 games. The Knights lost for the fourth time in their past five, erasing the euphoria of Saturday’s victory in less than 24 hours.

“We need to find some consistency in our game,” defenseman Brayden McNabb said. “We’ve got some learning to do. We’re in a bit of a funk right now.”

The poor trends in the Knights’ game, which they seemed to snap Saturday, came roaring back Sunday.

They gave up the first goal for the sixth time in their past seven games. Their top-six forwards — missing injured captain Mark Stone — didn’t produce enough offensively at five-on-five. Another opponent focused on taking away the Knights’ rush chances, and they scored two or fewer goals for the third time in four games.

Coach Bruce Cassidy felt Sunday’s game was lost as much on defense as offense. The Knights (29-17-2) had poor coverage on three of the Coyotes’ goals, allowing great looks from the slot.

The first came when rookie right wing Dylan Guenther was left alone in the middle of the zone 1:59 into the game. Center Nick Bjugstad found him from below the goal line to put Arizona (15-27-5) up 1-0.

Keller increased the Coyotes’ lead 1:39 into the second period. He found space in the slot during an extended offensive-zone shift and fired a wrist shot past goaltender Logan Thompson.

Right wing Phil Kessel, who played in Arizona the previous three seasons, scored a power-play goal 9:03 into the second to bring the Knights within 2-1. They started to push but never found another goal.

Keller instead got open in the slot again 8:50 into the third to restore the Coyotes’ two-goal lead. His empty-net goal with 4:08 remaining completed the hat trick and left the Knights once again searching for answers.

“If you’re not going to finish, you’ve got to keep it out of your net,” Cassidy said. “Those were all good shots. Logan, we kind of hung him out to dry with our slot coverage.”

Here are three takeaways from the loss:

1. New building

Sunday was the Knights’ first and only trip to Mullett Arena this season.

The Coyotes moved into the rink, which they share with Arizona State’s program, this year while they try to build a permanent home in Tempe.

The new venue is the smallest in the NHL. Sunday’s game had an announced attendance of 4,600.

“It brings me back to the college days,” defenseman Ben Hutton, who played at the University of Maine, said Sunday morning. “It’s a different vibe, but it’s cool.”

2. Thompson goes again

Thompson, after making 20 saves in the win against the Capitals, was in the crease again Sunday.

It was the third time in his career he’s started on consecutive days. It’s the first time he’s done so this season, though he played 52 minutes in relief of Adin Hill on Dec. 28 against Anaheim one day after a start.

Cassidy said he went with Thompson because Saturday wasn’t a “heavy-duty” game and the Knights didn’t have to travel that far. The team was hoping to get the rookie on a roll, but the defense let him down.

Thompson finished with 19 saves against the Coyotes. His counterpart Karel Vejmelka made 35.

3. Theodore skates

The Knights had one positive piece of news Sunday.

Defenseman Shea Theodore participated in the team’s morning skate, according to the AT&T SportsNet broadcast. Theodore hasn’t played since Dec. 9 with a lower-body injury. The fact that he traveled and skated with the Knights is a positive sign.

Theodore has 22 points in 29 games, which ranks eighth on the team.

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

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