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3 takeaways from Knights win: Last week’s loss to Maple Leafs avenged

Updated February 27, 2024 - 9:04 pm

Goaltender Adin Hill and the Golden Knights didn’t have to wait long for a shot at avenging one of their worst defensive outings this season.

They weren’t about to waste it.

The Knights came away with a 6-2 victory over Toronto on Tuesday at Scotiabank Arena, five days after surrendering season highs of seven goals and 42 shots in a home loss to the Maple Leafs.

“We knew last time it wasn’t our best effort as a group of 20 guys,” said Hill, who stopped 30 shots Tuesday after he was pulled in the first period of the previous meeting. “So we came in here tonight trying to prove a point, and I thought we did a great job doing that.”

Coach Bruce Cassidy has preached a renewed focus on defense and structure in the absence of several offensive stars, and his team appeared to take it to heart in snapping a three-game losing streak.

They managed the puck well during the first period and didn’t overextend themselves or get frustrated in a scoreless game, finally getting on the board when Ivan Barbashev found himself alone on a breakaway to grab the lead midway through the second period.

Mason Morelli scored 3:09 later to add to the lead, only to have Tyler Bertuzzi cut the deficit in half for Toronto (33-17-8).

But unlike Saturday in a similar situation when Ottawa got back within 2-1 on a late second-period goal, the Knights (33-19-7) immediately responded with a goal by William Karlsson to go up 3-1 in the final minute of the period.

The goal appeared to rejuvenate the Knights, who got two goals from Jonathan Marchessault and another from Nicolas Roy in the third period to pull away despite a late goal from former Knights forward Ryan Reaves.

“It’s a pretty good framework of how we want to play all the time, but especially given we are missing some of the dynamic players in our lineup,” Cassidy said.

Defenseman Shea Theodore had his third consecutive game with at least two assists, finishing with three. He has eight assists in four games since returning from injury.

Marchessault added an assist and had his third consecutive multi point game. He has a career-high 32 goals, the most on the team.

Here are three takeaways from the win:

1. Fourth-line contributions

One of the issues with so many injured forwards is that players down in the lineup have been moved up, leaving a void on a fourth line that has been a strength for the Knights.

The team might have found a bit of magic by assembling a unit of stalwarts from the American Hockey League affiliate in Henderson, as Morelli, Byron Froese and Sheldon Rempal gave the Knights a big boost in the past two games.

“We are just trying to play hard and simple,” Morelli said. “Just trying to bring the boys energy and play to our roots, get pucks behind guys to make it hard on them and hopefully just contribute to two points.”

Cassidy noted that his successful teams have always had a reliable fourth line.

“I had no problem playing them against (the Auston) Matthews’ line or whoever,” Cassidy said. “If you give them an assignment, guys like that tend to listen, because that’s how they get more minutes.”

Matthews, the NHL’s leading goal scorer, had just two shots on goal and finished with a minus-3 rating.

2. More progress for Eichel

The offense could be getting a boost soon, as star center Jack Eichel skated with the group during Tuesday’s morning skate.

Eichel didn’t play against the Maple Leafs, but his presence in a red no-contact jersey was a welcome sight and another step in the process of returning from a lower-body injury that has sidelined him since Jan. 11.

“It’s good to have him around, just for his sake, too,” Cassidy said. “He’s not ready to play yet, but when he’s skating with the group, he’s one step closer.”

Cassidy said Eichel needs at least one full practice with the team, which could happen Wednesday in Boston. But there is a chance he could play on this road trip, which ends Monday in Columbus.

3. Hall of Validation?

Cassidy wasn’t necessarily looking for validation of his coaching ability when he visited the Hockey Hall of Fame by himself on Sunday in Toronto, but he found it.

“We had lost four in a row at home and just lost to the Senators on Saturday, and you think you can’t coach a lick,” Cassidy said Tuesday morning. “Then you go in there and see your team’s ring in that little stall with the Knights’ Cup stuff, and it gives you a little confidence boost.”

It might have worked, as his message of a renewed focus on defense and structure were finally answered in a win that snapped the Maple Leafs’ seven-game winning streak.

Cassidy returned Monday with a large portion of the team to take advantage of the unique privilege as defending Stanley Cup champions to spend time in the D.K. Seaman Hockey Resource Centre, the Hall of Fame’s vast archives.

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

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