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Golden Knights’ defensive zone changes pay dividends — ANALYSIS

The Golden Knights made some defensive-zone coverage adjustments before Wednesday’s game at the Nashville Predators.

They wanted to defend less man-to-man and free themselves up to protect the “good ice” (the front of the net, the slot) while allowing their opponents to shoot from the “bad ice” (outside the faceoff dots).

Friday’s 2-1 shootout win over the Arizona Coyotes at T-Mobile Arena was a step in the right direction for the Knights in that regard. They gave up few quality chances in their second game with the system tweak. The Coyotes had 36 shots on goal, but not many were dangerous.

“We still had a couple missed opportunities to get the puck out and a couple turnovers or a couple missed switches or something like that,” Knights right wing Alex Tuch said. “It’s a learning process. It’s just what happens sometimes. But I thought only giving up one goal to a team like Arizona is huge with the firepower that they have and the skill that they have. If we’re able to hold that team to one goal, we can pretty much hold any team to one goal in the league.”

The Coyotes ended the game with 18 scoring chances and eight high-danger scoring chances. Those totals rank 12th and 14th among the Knights’ opponents in their first 28 games.

It wasn’t a great defensive performance. But it was progress as the Knights get used to the changes they’re making.

Arizona did most of its damage late after struggling to generate offense through two periods. The Coyotes had only four scoring chances and one high-danger scoring chance in the first because they were largely pinned to the outside.

The Knights kept that up in the second period as well, though they did allow a goal when defenseman Jakob Chychrun managed to beat goaltender Malcolm Subban with a shot from below the left faceoff dot.

“They had a lot of stuff from the outside,” Subban said. “The goal they scored was obviously from the outside. That was all the shots they had pretty much the whole game. It was all from the outside. It makes it a lot easier for us in net.”

The system should allow the Knights goaltenders to face easier shots — with one caveat: They have to control their rebounds well.

Goalies can’t allow bad shots from the outside to turn into good shots on the inside by giving up a lot of rebounds in front of the net. The Coyotes nearly won the game on a rebound with 9.2 seconds left when left wing Clayton Keller got to a loose puck and fired it toward the net from the slot. Subban, who said after the game he thought his rebound control could have been better, made the save to send the game into overtime.

Subban also said he thought his team did a great job clearing rebounds in front of him. Coach Gerard Gallant said it’s important for his skaters to do that to keep scoring chances low.

“Any time you can box guys out and keep them from second and third chances in front of the net, it’s going to help your team win games,” Gallant said.

The Knights hope their system tweak will lead to more winning after they started 11-11-4. They’re 2-0 since they’ve made the change, and the hope is their defense will continued to get better as they get more accustomed to it.

“I think it’ll take a few games, but hopefully it gets us going in the right direction,” defenseman Jonathon Merrill said.

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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