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3 takeaways from Knights’ loss: Problems persist despite star’s return

Updated March 5, 2024 - 6:46 pm

The return of star center Jack Eichel was not a secret elixir that fixed everything wrong with the Golden Knights.

They still couldn’t keep the puck out of the net Monday.

Alex Nylander completed a hat trick with an empty-net goal for the Columbus Blue Jackets in the final minutes of the Knights’ latest meltdown, a disastrous 6-3 road loss at Nationwide Arena.

The Blue Jackets (21-30-10) have the fewest points in the Eastern Conference.

“You have to want it,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “We don’t want it right now. That’s very evident in our game.”

The Knights (33-22-7) have allowed at least five goals in three straight games. All of them were losses. They have also given up 36 goals their last seven contests, part of a 2-7-1 slide their last 10 games.

“You’re not winning in this league when you have to score five goals every night,” Cassidy said. “Ever, ever, ever. So we have to fix that, but some of it is just our willingness to compete.”

It’s not even as simple as defensive breakdowns or poor goaltending. The Knights have struggled to manage the puck, giving opponents chances off turnovers. They’ve also been outworked far too often in all areas of the ice.

“They wanted the puck more than we did,” Cassidy said. “Our will right now to compete on pucks just isn’t good enough to win consistently in this league and that’s exactly what we’re going through right now, we’re not winning consistently.”

The script was all too familiar Monday. Columbus got off to a fast start. The Knights had a brief rally, then watched their opponent pull away.

The Blue Jackets built a 2-0 lead in the first period before forwards Mason Morelli and William Karlsson scored 42 seconds apart to tie the game with 1:59 remaining before the first intermission.

Columbus built a two-goal advantage again thanks to a second-period goal from defenseman Erik Gudbranson and a tally from Nylander 3:23 into the third. Center Chandler Stephenson restored the Knights’ hopes for a moment by cutting their deficit to 4-3 with 9:44 remaining.

The comeback was short-lived, however. Right wing Yegor Chinakhov scored 1:04 after Stephenson’s goal and Nylander sealed the victory by adding his empty netter with 1:11 left.

“We seem to always be down in games and have to chase it,” Karlsson said. “Then we battle back and get a tie, but then they score the next one and we have to chase again. I’d say that’s one of the common denominators.”

Here are three takeaways from the loss:

1. He’s back

Eichel played for the first time since Jan. 11 because of a lower-body injury that required surgery.

He missed 19 games and still ranks third on the Knights in goals (19) and points (44). He did not add to those totals Monday, but he was tied for the team lead with five shots on goal and hit the crossbar in the third period.

Eichel, who caught up with almost all of the TV series “Suits” while recovering, said he hopes to play a simple game and help the team start winning games again.

Cassidy said Eichel should boost the Knights’ five-on-five game and both special teams units, while serving as a leader with captain Mark Stone sidelined with an upper-body injury.

Right wing Brendan Brisson was sent to Henderson to make room for Eichel on the roster.

2. Mixing it up

Cassidy switched up his defensive pairs in the middle of Monday’s game, dropping struggling veteran Alec Martinez down to the third pair to skate with Zach Whitecloud.

Defenseman Nic Hague moved up to the first pair with Martinez’s usual partner Alex Pietrangelo.

Martinez finished with a minus-2 rating. His 17:22 of ice time was the least among the Knights’ six defensemen.

The team has options if it wants to make a lineup change. Veteran Ben Hutton is healthy and has been effective for the Knights this season. Rookie Kaedan Korczak, who is in Henderson waiting for his next opportunity, has as well.

3. Cap situation

The Knights moved Stone to long-term injured reserve in a procedural move when Eichel was activated.

Stone is considered week-to-week and is expected to be out for the foreseeable future.

The move means the Knights have about $7.3 million in salary-cap space to work with if they decide to make a move ahead of Friday’s trade deadline as long as Stone is out the rest of the regular season.

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

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