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Coach says Golden Knights need to get ‘malaise out of our game’

The Golden Knights were “horrible” in a loss to Los Angeles on Jan. 7, according to coach Bruce Cassidy.

The Knights responded with a win over Florida in their next game. But then an awful start doomed them in Saturday’s defeat to Edmonton. Then they were shut out for the first time Monday in a 4-0 loss to Dallas that Cassidy called “not NHL effort.”

The setbacks mean the Knights have lost three of four for only the second time this season. They have yet to lose three straight.

The slide is starting to affect the team in the standings. The Knights (.644) entered Tuesday’s games second in the Pacific Division by points percentage — behind Seattle (.651) — for only the second time since October. They’ve dropped to fourth in the Western Conference.

The Knights still have plenty of margin for error in their final 37 games. But the longer the skid goes, the more it will bring up last season’s spiral from division leaders at the halfway point to out of the playoffs.

“Clearly something’s crept into our game here,” said Cassidy, who is scheduled to coach the Pacific Division at All-Star Weekend like former coach Pete DeBoer did last season. “Some malaise, whatever you want to call it, that we have to get out of our game.”

Any discussion of the Knights’ difficulties — like it has for the past two years — starts with their injury list.

They’ve been without two regulars on the blue line — defensemen Shea Theodore (16 games) and Zach Whitecloud (15) — for more than a month with lower-body injuries. Center Brett Howden hasn’t played since Nov. 23 with a lower-body injury.

Absences have continued to pile up on this homestand. The Knights have lost a player in three consecutive games.

Captain Mark Stone left the Panthers game with an upper-body injury and is considered week to week. Left wing William Carrier exited Saturday with an upper-body injury. Defenseman Alec Martinez took one shift in the second period Monday and didn’t return with an undisclosed injury.

That left the Knights playing without three regular defensemen, their emotional leader and two key depth forwards.

“(Injuries have) kind of plagued us the last couple years,” left wing Reilly Smith said. “Just have to do a better job fighting through that stuff.”

The injuries don’t excuse the performances entirely.

The Knights have been treading water for a while. Since their 13-2 start, they are 15-13-2. That’s tied for the 19th-best record in the NHL in that span.

Cassidy challenged his players to step up Monday.

“Everyone wants to play more, so here’s your opportunity,” he said. “Get after it. Don’t come into my office on Wednesday and say to me, ‘Hey, I need to play more.’”

The Knights no longer can point to their hectic and travel-heavy early schedule for their struggles. Things have lightened up. They are five games into a season-long, seven-game homestand but are 2-3. They’re 13-12 at T-Mobile Arena.

The Knights have also gotten rest. They had four consecutive days without a game before playing the Panthers. They get two in a row before their matchup with Detroit on Thursday.

That time off didn’t seem to serve the Knights well in their previous three games. They need to hope this latest break can help them reset, or else they risk bringing up more bad memories.

“Just all over not good enough,” defenseman Nic Hague said after Monday’s loss. “We need to find a way to turn it around.”

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

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