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3 takeaways from Knights’ loss: Same issues spoil newcomers’ debuts

Updated March 7, 2024 - 10:54 pm

All the energy generated by the Golden Knights’ two talented newcomers was sucked out of T-Mobile Arena before long Thursday.

The Knights’ start saw them make the same old mistakes that have contributed to their recent slide.

The result was yet another loss. The Knights were defeated 3-1 by the Pacific Division-leading Vancouver Canucks. The loss was the team’s fourth straight and dropped it to 2-8-1 its last 11 games.

“It’s a long season,” center Nicolas Roy said. “You get stretches like that in the season but you got to get out of it as quick as possible. It seems like we’ve been in it for a long time now. We’ve got to find ways to dig deep and come on top of it.”

It was a familiar recipe. Slow start. Poor puck management. Turnovers that found the back of the net. An inability to break the puck out of their own zone.

Basically, losing hockey.

“We’re a second off in our execution and our puck support and you can see it,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “We’re just not clean. We’ve got to get cleaner.”

The Knights created plenty of buzz the two days leading up to the game by trading for right wing Anthony Mantha and defenseman Noah Hanifin. But it was the Canucks that took charge once the puck dropped.

Defenseman Quinn Hughes and left wing Phillip Di Giuseppe scored goals 55 seconds apart in the first period of a game that was played almost entirely in the Knights’ defensive zone the first 10 minutes.

“Obviously, I don’t think our best effort,” defenseman Shea Theodore said. “They capitalized on a lot of plays. We have to find more ways.”

Right wing Michael Amadio breathed life into the arena 3:50 into the second period with a blast from the blue line that cut the Knights’ deficit to 2-1. The team couldn’t capitalize on the momentum.

Right wing Conor Garland took advantage of a disastrous clearance attempt to add an insurance goal for Vancouver (41-17-7) 4:02 before the second intermission that ended the scoring.

“I thought we got going a little bit (after falling behind 2-0),” Cassidy said. “But again the third goal we don’t execute well enough yet again and then we don’t put out the fire after we don’t execute.”

Here are three takeaways from the loss:

1. New guys

Mantha and Hanifin weren’t able to turn around the Knights’ fortunes immediately after arriving.

Hanifin did show glimpses of the playmaking defenseman the team believes he can be.

“He’s a great player,” Theodore said. “Obviously, it’s not always easy to fly in morning-of and be right on the ice but he’s smooth. He’s been around the league for a long time. He’s a good presence back there.”

Hanifin played 21:33 and recorded two shots on goal, two hits and a blocked shot just hours after landing in Las Vegas. The 27-year-old is a smooth skater with size who glides around the ice. He should help a team that has struggled to break out pucks.

“A really nice add for us,” Cassidy said. “He plays in all situations and against top players. He’ll play some on the power play and on the penalty kill.

“One of his best assets is his ability to move the puck out of the zone with his feet and his hands, for that matter. He’s a good hockey player.”

Hanifin hasn’t had time to really process his new surroundings, but he’s excited to be a part of a playoff push.

“They’re the Stanley Cup champions,” Hanifin said. “They know how to win and it’s an unbelievable organization to be a part of.”

Mantha wasn’t credited with a shot on goal in 15:14 in his Knights debut. He committed a four-minute high-sticking penalty on his first shift.

“He’s a big body,” Roy said. “I’ve seen him a lot in the (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League). He’s got a really great shot. He’s hard to play against. Really happy to have him.”

2. Slow starts continue

Cassidy said before the game the Knights needed to correct the slow starts that have plagued them in recent contests.

The message didn’t appear to get through.

Vancouver recorded 14 of the first 15 shots on goal and led 2-0 after the first period.

“We take a penalty early, then another on top of it and again we’re behind,” Cassidy said. “The other team has life in our building and we don’t defend a simple flip out and all of a sudden it’s 2-0 now. We have to start digging in after the first negative thing happens to us and bounce back and we haven’t been able to do that.”

It marked the fourth consecutive game in which the Knights have surrendered the first two goals. They are 0-4 in those contests.

“It’s hard to find a reason why but obviously you don’t want to be putting yourself in a hole like that every game,” Roy said. “It’s tough in this league when you get back two goals really early to get back in the game. We’ve got to be definitely better in the first period.”

3. Clock ticking

The Knights still have the flexibility to make more deals before the NHL trade deadline hits at noon Friday.

They got teams to retain significant portions of Mantha and Hanifin’s salary-cap hits when acquiring both players.

The Knights did suffer some losses in the process. They gave up defenseman Daniil Miromanov in the Hanifin deal. They also placed defenseman Tobias Bjornfot on waivers Thursday.

Bjornfot was claimed off waivers from the Kings on Jan. 4 and played just two games for the Knights.

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

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