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Golden Knights defensemen look to clean up turnovers

Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said his team had two objectives Tuesday at T-Mobile Arena: Escape the Golden Knights’ forecheck and pressure their defensemen.

Check and check, especially the latter.

The Knights defensemen made too many mistakes with the puck in the team’s 4-3 loss. The Bruins created turnovers, and three of them led to their three even-strength goals.

The blue line needs to clean up its mistakes quickly, as the Knights (2-1) begin a stretch of three Pacific Division games in four days. The first is at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Arizona Coyotes (0-2).

“Our D tried to make plays that they’re not capable of making last night,” Knights coach Gerard Gallant said Wednesday. “It didn’t work out. (The puck) hit their sticks, stayed in the zone and they scored goals. I’m not blaming our D. Our D (had) been outstanding the first two games. And last night we had a tougher night.”

Gallant’s comments sound familiar since puck-moving defenseman Nate Schmidt, who is week to week with a lower-body injury, is unavailable. Schmidt was suspended for the first 20 games of last season and the Knights went 8-11-1. They were 35-21-6 the rest of the way.

Without Schmidt, the defensemen who were forced into bigger roles were stretched.

When he returned, he let “the other guys play in their positions,” Gallant said in December. Those players now need to show this season is different.

“When Schmidt is out, it’s a little different look from them,” Cassidy said. “He’s a good puck mover, so we (had) to make sure to get some turnovers in their end.”

The Bruins’ game featured a lot of Knights defensemen in new roles. Shea Theodore, whose weak dump-in attempt led to Boston’s third goal, was moved to the top pair after Schmidt was hurt. Nick Holden, who had a pass broken up before the Bruins’ fourth goal, was elevated to the second pair. And rookie Nic Hague, who had two giveaways, was in the lineup after spending last season in the American Hockey League.

All are capable of more. Theodore, 24, has improved each season. Holden, 32, has played second pair minutes before. Hague, 20, is a second-round pick with plenty of promise.

But they’re not the only players who made mistakes.

Defenseman Deryk Engelland had a pass intercepted in the first period that led to the Bruins’ first goal. Gallant said the forwards also deserve some blame for the turnovers for not always being available on breakouts.

“I don’t think we necessarily played our game,” Theodore said. “I thought we were definitely close, but the mistakes that we did make ended up costing us.”

The Knights have to move past their first loss knowing they’re capable of playing better and that few opponents are as talented as the Bruins, who were in the Stanley Cup Final last season. But Holden said the defensemen still can be faster on breakouts with shorter passes to keep the puck moving.

That way the Knights can play the high-paced game they want, be safe with the puck and beat teams trying to pressure them.

“The cleaner you are, the faster you can play,” Holden said. “That’s how you have to try to combat that.”

More Golden Knights: Follow at reviewjournal.com/GoldenKnights and @HockeyinVegas on Twitter.

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

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