Updated November 25, 2023 - 11:15 pm
Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy offered a blunt assessment of what went wrong on the decisive play in Saturday night’s 2-0 loss to the Arizona Coyotes at T-Mobile Arena.
“Basically a teenager outworked our defense to get a puck to the front of the net in a very close game,” Cassidy said. “That shouldn’t happen.”
Cassidy was referring to 19-year-old Logan Cooley winning a battle with Brayden Pachal behind the net midway through the third period and working the puck to the front, where it eventually ended up on the stick of Clayton Keller for a tap-in goal past a scrambling Logan Thompson to break a scoreless tie with 9:22 remaining.
Lawson Crouse added an empty-net tally for the Coyotes.
The Knights (14-5-2) were shut out for the third time in six games, while allowing a season-low 18 shots on goal. It was the first time they have been shut out at home since Jan. 16 against Dallas.
“Everybody gets excited to play us,” forward Jonathan Marchessault said. “We’re one of the good teams in the NHL, and it’s not always going to be about rainbows and butterflies. Right now, we’re going through a rough stretch, and teams are ready for us. We’re a measuring stick for them. For us, it’s not good enough. We were a little sleepy during the games, and tonight it’s an unnecessary loss.”
Arizona (9-9-2) managed just 10 shots through the first two periods. Connor Ingram recorded 34 saves to earn his second-career shutout for the Coyotes.
Here are three takeaways from the loss:
1. Frustration building
What the Knights hoped was a small blip on the radar is starting to look more like a troubling storm developing as they were shut out for the third time in the last six games.
They have scored just 11 goals over that stretch.
Cassidy believes some of the team’s top players aren’t focusing on the details and hard work that it takes to generate scoring chances.
“Some of the guys we rely on offensively are not willing to do that right now, and as a result, the offense has dried up,” he said. “Until they’re willing to get back to basics, I can’t sit here and tell you we’re going to come out of it tomorrow or the next day.”
Cassidy said his players need to make plays when there is space available, and when there isn’t, they need to get the puck behind the net and grind to get it back in a better position. Only then will the goals start coming again.
“There is a certain way to play,” he said. “That’s been our team since my existence here, and we’ve been pretty good. But right now we’re not scoring. It’s a lot of guys we rely on not willing to do it. So until they start, we’ve got to encourage them more to do it the right way. We’ll do our part there, but at the end of the day, once they go over the boards, that’s kind of what’s required right now.”
The Knights have gone through tough offensive stretches before, but they were shut out just twice in the regular season and playoffs combined last year.
“It’s definitely (a period of frustration),” Marchessault said. “You have to wake up the next day and think, ‘What can I do to become better?’ If everybody looks at themselves in the mirror and does that, I think we’ll be fine.”
A consistent message coming out of the locker room has been a belief the goals will come if they just keep generating chances, but Marchessault didn’t see enough of those tonight.
“We had a couple of chances, but I don’t think it was a lot,” said Marchessault, who had two shots on goal. “I don’t think there’s enough generated. We didn’t get our forecheck going, we didn’t sustain pressure in the (offensive) zone a lot. We do have chances, but not that much. If we had a lot of chances, I think we’d be finding the back of the net more.”
2. Down two defensemen
Less than a week after putting their projected top 18 skaters on the ice for the first time all season, the Knights are without two of their best defensemen.
Alec Martinez missed a second consecutive game with a lower-body injury, and Shea Theodore sat out with an upper-body injury.
Cassidy said he’s optimistic neither is a long-term issue, though he was still gathering information on Theodore’s injury because he just found out about it Saturday morning after the Knights had the two previous days off. Martinez is day to day, though Cassidy indicated he will likely miss the upcoming road trip to Canada.
Brayden Pachal and Ben Hutton were inserted in the lineup in their place and paired together Saturday night. Zach Whitecloud moved up and paired with Brayden McNabb.
Cassidy said the team is accustomed to dealing with injuries and doesn’t expect this situation to be any different, though he acknowledged Theodore is one of the most difficult players to replace. It doesn’t help that Theodore and McNabb have been the most consistent pairing this season, in Cassidy’s opinion.
“I think losing (Theodore) is a little different because he’s our most dynamic offensive player, and we can’t automatically replace a lot of what he does,” Cassidy said. “He is a game-changer with some of the plays he makes, and he has this year. That will probably affect our offensive transition game more than anywhere.
“There’s only one (Theodore) on our team, and when he’s out, it’s not something where you can just tap a guy on the shoulder and tell him to do (what he does).”
3. On the road again
The Knights arrived home late Wednesday from their longest road trip of the season thus far to play their first home game in more than two weeks Saturday night.
Now they are off to Canada on Sunday to play the first of three consecutive road games in Calgary on Monday.
Right wing Keegan Kolesar had barely settled back into his place before repacking his bags during the team’s off day.
“I’m not going to want to go home and start packing after we play,” he said before Saturday’s game. “I had the day off Friday, so I figured I may as well get it done.”
After playing the Flames, the Knights travel to Edmonton on Tuesday and Vancouver on Thursday before getting a couple of days at home next week.