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After slow start, Alex Pietrangelo rounding into playoff form

Alex Pietrangelo has gotten to know Las Vegas mainly through his car window.

The Golden Knights defenseman and his wife, Jayne, have taken their four children under 3 years old for plenty of rides around town whenever they feel the need to get out of the house.

It’s an unusual way for Pietrangelo to learn more about his second NHL city, but it’s one of the only ones he has because of the league’s COVID-19 restrictions.

Nothing about Pietrangelo’s transition to the Knights has been normal after he signed a seven-year, $61.6 million contract in the offseason.

Perhaps not surprisingly, that didn’t lead to instant success.

Pietrangelo had 14 points in his first 31 games with the Knights. But he heated up late in the season when it mattered most with nine points in his final 10 games.

“I never got discouraged,” Pietrangelo said. “For me, it’s not about the stats. You get opportunities, and you have to capitalize on them. Sometimes they all go in, and sometimes they don’t. So you stick to what you think is the right way to play, and eventually things will turn around. It’s nice to contribute, and obviously they expect me to contribute, so I put a lot of pressure on myself to do that.”

Pietrangelo, 31, faced a tough adjustment when he joined the Knights after 12 seasons in St. Louis.

He was leaving a place where he had been a franchise icon.

He went from the fourth overall pick in 2008 to someone who finished in the top 10 of the Norris Trophy voting four times. He also captained the team to its lone Stanley Cup in 2019.

What made his exit tougher was packing up and moving in the middle of a pandemic and getting less time than normal to get acquainted with his new club.

Pietrangelo had a short training camp and no preseason games to get used to the Knights’ system. His teammates didn’t have a lot of time to get to know him or the way he played, either.

“He had a little bit of an adjustment period early,” coach Pete DeBoer said.

Pietrangelo was hampered even further when he went into the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols in late January, then suffered an upper-body injury in early March.

But his play started to pick up when he got healthy.

His chemistry started to click with his new teammates. His offense took a step forward.

He started playing like the all-around defenseman he was in St. Louis.

“He contributes everywhere on the ice,” right wing Reilly Smith said. “Playing against him, it seemed like he was a one-man breakout and could do it all himself. He’s brought that to our team, and he’s helped us in more ways than just that.”

The Knights want Pietrangelo to carry that into the playoffs. They had visions upon signing him that he and Shea Theodore could give the team a dynamic one-two punch on the blue line.

That plan seems to be falling into place. In many ways, Pietrangelo’s trajectory is similar to Max Pacioretty’s in his first season with the Knights.

The former Montreal captain had a hard time adapting at first but finished the season by scoring 11 points in seven playoff games.

“This time of the year, it’s probably my favorite time of the year,” Pietrangelo said. “As you go through the playoffs, everything becomes obviously more competitive. As teams start funneling more fans into the building, it creates that atmosphere again that really is fun to be a part of. I love playing this time of the year. Everything is kind of under a microscope.”

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

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