Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy knows there will be more bumps in the road and adjustments to be made over the course of a long season.
But he’s enjoying the smooth sailing his team is enjoying at the moment after a slight tuneup to the Knights’ mindset helped lead to two of their best performances of the season.
Cassidy talked with his team about turning the page from the dream of winning the Stanley Cup, including getting caught up in each opponent treating games against them like playoff affairs.
“We can enjoy being the defending champs, but let’s keep working on being the repeating champs,” Cassidy said after Saturday’s 4-1 win over Washington. “I think there was a bit of a mindset shift from us, and I think you’re seeing the result of that. How long that goes before the next sort of hurdle, we’ll see and time will tell.”
The Knights (16-5-4) started to show positive trends against Edmonton in a shootout loss, then followed it up with two of their best 60-minute efforts of the year. They jumped on Vancouver early in a 4-1 win and did the same against the Capitals.
They will look to do the same when they host the Blues (12-10-1) at 7 p.m. Monday at T-Mobile Arena.
“We’re a tough team when we play with the lead,” captain Mark Stone said after the team scored in the first period in the last two games after a stretch when the Knights found themselves chasing the score far too often.
“I think the structure has been there all year. It has allowed us to stay in games. We didn’t stray from us, which has allowed us to get some overtime wins and greasy wins when we weren’t playing our best. Now we’re starting to finish some plays.”
The goals are always the most obvious measure of things working well, and that has certainly been the case. The Knights have scored four goals in three straight contests after scoring 12 times in the previous seven games combined.
Cassidy pointed to goals by Keegan Kolesar and Ben Hutton, the first of the season for each, late in the loss at Edmonton, as a turning point.
“Those are guys who are very well-liked and hadn’t scored, and it gave us some life,” Cassidy said. “You started to see a snowball effect. We’re still getting teams’ best shot, but we have to get to our game now.
“I think guys have bought into that. I think that’s what’s changed. I think we’re just, to a man, more focused on the task at hand and playing on our toes a little more.”
Cassidy pointed to the factors that are leading to those goals as being the driving force in his team’s positive play.
“Our checking game,” he said. “When that happens, then the chances are down, goals against, shots. They all run together. We’re checking well, getting pucks back, not allowing easy access into our zone. Forcing teams to dump and go get it. Not giving up offensive zone time so easy, and by the time they do get it, they’re tired and we’re coming right back at them. Discipline. Staying out of the box. You factor those things in, and we’re spending a lot less time chasing the game and chasing the puck.”
Despite some stretches of inconsistent offense, the Knights still sit atop the Western Conference standings, and several teams have mentioned using games against them to gauge where they are at this point in the season.
Cassidy said the Knights only have themselves as a measuring stick.
“That’s why we’re starting to get back to, ‘Let’s be who we are,’” he said. “Can you be that way every night for 82 games? No. But there should be stretches where that’s who you are every night. Now you might not win because you don’t get a bounce or a save or a timely goal, but that’s who the measuring stick is for us right now.”
They will get another chance to see where their game stands against the middling Blues on Monday.
Who: Golden Knights vs. Blues
When: 7 p.m. Monday
Where: T-Mobile Arena
TV: KMCC-34, KnightTime+
Radio: KKGK (1340 AM, 98.9 FM)
Line: Knights -215; total 6