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Despite torrid start, Knights give themselves wake-up call

Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy met with five members of the team’s leadership group Tuesday, prepared to discuss the good and bad from the first 10 games of the season.

The overarching message was going to be the Knights’ game had started to slip despite a 9-0-1 start and more work was needed. But Cassidy didn’t need to do much to drive it home. The players were right there with him.

The Knights practiced two days straight, dedicated themselves to getting better and won their next game 5-2 against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday in a first-round playoff rematch. For all the club’s strengths, such as an incredible amount of depth, a strong defensive structure and an excellent goalie tandem, its self-awareness is right up there.

The Knights know the standard they’re holding themselves to now as defending Stanley Cup champions. Wins in October and November won’t distract them from what they need to do to achieve their end goal.

“I guess, it’s the old one and done or do you want to be a legacy team, right?” Cassidy said. “And we’re in the early stages of that, at least building from last year. Let’s do all the things we can do to be the latter.”

There was clear frustration setting in with some players despite the start. Captain Mark Stone, who had seven points in his first 10 games, admitted he was in that group after Monday’s 3-2 win against Montreal. Right wing Jonathan Marchessault also was after scoring five points in that stretch. He said after doubling his goal total with a hat trick Thursday it “wasn’t hard” to play better than he had been.

Cassidy attributed some of the early annoyance to the Knights’ playoff memories. They remember what it felt like when they were on top of their game in the Stanley Cup Final. It’s not fair for players to expect themselves to reach that level the first month of the next season, but it’s hard to erase that feeling from their heads.

“Our expectation is up here now,” said Cassidy, holding his left hand by his head. “And if we’re not meeting that individually and collectively, then there’s a bit of frustration setting in.”

To the Knights’ credit, they’re willing to work through that irritation.

They practiced Tuesday and Wednesday when they would normally get one of those days off. The team even had 10 skaters — including half of its lineup against the Jets — show up for an optional morning skate Thursday.

The Knights weren’t complaining about the extra work. They won against the Canadiens despite trailing 11-6 in high-danger scoring chances at five-on-five, according to the website Natural Stat Trick. Their wall battles, puck play and other details were slipping.

The team recognized that and wanted to get it corrected. That’s the approach the Knights want to take this season. They believe they have a chance to do something special given they’re returning almost the exact same team as last year.

They don’t want to throw that opportunity away.

“It’s not easy when you’re getting away with things and you’re winning hockey games to look in the mirror and really know you’re not playing the way you want to,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “Our group is really good at that.”

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

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