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DeBoer says Golden Knights must be ‘hungrier, harder’ in crease

Marc-Andre Fleury was pulled from the Golden Knights net for only the second time this season Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild, but make no mistake: It wasn’t his fault.

Fleury didn’t let in four goals on 20 shots because he was poor. He did so because the Knights failed to win battles around the net in front of him, which resulted in easy goals for the Wild in Minnesota’s 4-0 win at Xcel Energy Center.

“We lost the net-front battles at both ends,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “We didn’t make it tough enough on (Minnesota goaltender Alex) Stalock and three of their four goals were in the crease. They were just hungrier than we were around our net.”

Right wing Mark Stone said the Knights weren’t “boxing out” in front of their net to prevent scoring opportunities off rebounds. That was evident on the Wild’s final three goals, which traveled a total of about 3 feet.

Minnesota’s second goal, which came on the power play, started when right wing Kevin Fiala fired a shot on net from below the right circle. Fiala was behind defensemen Jon Merrill and Nick Holden so he collected his own rebound and threw the puck back in the crease.

Holden swiped at the puck but couldn’t clear it; defenseman Jared Spurgeon knocked it into the net.

The Wild’s third goal was similar. Defenseman Nate Schmidt went to one knee to try to block a shot by defenseman Jonas Brodin but missed. That left Holden 3-on-1 against the Wild in the crease.

Holden couldn’t clear the rebounds from Brodin’s shot or a follow-up by left wing Zach Parise, and Fiala pounced for his fifth goal in five games.

“They’re banging away,” DeBoer said. “Three, four opportunities are in the crease and we’re not clearing pucks or people out of there. We’ve got to be hungrier and harder in that area.”

The Wild’s final goal came on a simple tap-in in front of the crease. Parise got enough position on Schmidt on the power play that he was able to one-time a pass from center Eric Staal into the net.

Those are goals the Knights, even on the power play, have to be able to prevent. That means either getting tough in front of their net, or perhaps looking outside the organization for someone before the Feb. 24 trade deadline.

“They were just throwing pucks at the net and creating battles,” Schmidt said. “We didn’t win them on the PK and they were winning them on the power play.”

Rough day for Reaves

Lost in the game’s aftermath was its chippy beginning.

Minnesota right wing Ryan Hartman took umbrage with a Ryan Reaves hit on Wild captain Mikko Koivu just 30 seconds into the game. Hartman was given a double roughing minor and Reaves was given a single one.

After that there was plenty of hitting and trash talking early. Reaves was at the center of most of it, which resulted in him receiving a painful slash from defenseman Matt Dumba.

Reaves crunched Dumba in the corner, so the defenseman retaliated away from the play by whacking Reaves in his lower body. No penalty was called.

The play raised plenty of alarms that a fight was coming but it never materialized. Reaves jawed at Koivu his next shift, presumably asking the captain to control his teammates, but nothing more happened.

Praise for Parise

Parise also recorded an assist Tuesday, the 400th of his career.

The 35-year-old recently hit a major milestone by playing his 1,000th game Friday against the Dallas Stars. He played 82 of them under DeBoer, not including 24 playoff games, and the Knights’ coach still remembers them fondly.

“One of my favorite players that I’ve coached,” DeBoer said. “He was our captain there, we went to a Stanley Cup Final. Like Mark Stone, like Joe Pavelski, he walks the walk. He shows up and does everything the right way, from his preparation to his practice to his game habits.”

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

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