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Golden Knights explore options on top line without Max Pacioretty

If recent history is any indication, expect the Golden Knights to shake up their forward lines for Game 2 of their first-round playoff series.

Coach Pete DeBoer threw a new look at Dallas after a 1-0 loss in the opener of the Western Conference Final last postseason, and it resulted in their lone victory in the series.

With the Knights facing a nearly identical situation in the best-of-seven series after Sunday’s 1-0 overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild at T-Mobile Arena, DeBoer must find a way to spark an offense missing its leading goal scorer.

“I think we’ll look at what other options come from,” DeBoer said after practice Monday. “But regardless of who plays with who, we’ve got to get scoring, and we’ve got to get depth scoring, and we have to be dangerous throughout our lineup. That’s the strength of our team. We’ve got to find those combinations.”

The Knights continue to miss left wing Max Pacioretty, who was scratched from Game 1 after he missed the final six games of the regular season with an upper-body injury. He remains day to day but is trending in the right direction, according to DeBoer.

Without Pacioretty and his 24 goals at his side, right wing Mark Stone has gone missing. The team’s leading scorer had two points in his final five regular-season outings and managed one shot on goal in Game 1 against the Wild despite seeing favorable matchups at five-on-five.

DeBoer started Game 1 with Tomas Nosek on the top line and shouldered the blame for putting the forward in a tough spot during his first game back since April 24.

Alex Tuch moved to the wing with Stone and center Chandler Stephenson starting late in the second period and finished the game there.

“Obviously, we wanted to capitalize on a couple of the chances that we had, maybe even create a couple more chances than we had,” Tuch said. “I thought that all four lines and whoever was playing with each other had chances. We’ve just got to bear down and bury them.”

One option DeBoer has yet to explore is breaking up the Misfit Line and moving left wing Jonathan Marchessault to the top line.

That would help replace Pacioretty’s finishing ability, and Marchessault and Stone showed chemistry together playing for Team Canada at the IIHF World Championship in 2019.

“The idea about keeping (Tuch) on our third line was in order to keep some of that matchup depth,” DeBoer said. “But with (Pacioretty) out, it’s tough. It’s tough to find guys to put in that No. 1 hole that complement (Stephenson) and (Stone).”

DeBoer was faced with the same dilemma of how to match up against a deep Dallas team last season in the playoffs. The Stars spread their scoring throughout the lineup to begin the series, then stacked their top line in the games they had the last change to get the matchups they desired.

Minnesota has similar depth and also presents a Catch-22 for the Knights whether to load up the top line or try to counter the Wild’s balance.

Regardless, the Knights need to generate more offense or the NHL’s only 40-win team during the regular season could face a quick playoff exit.

In their past nine postseason games dating to the bubble, they’ve scored 12 goals — two of them were into an empty net — and been shut out three times.

The Knights generated 40-plus shots in four of those games, but haven’t been able to finish around the net consistently.

The shot charts from Game 1 provided by NaturalStatTrick.com and Micah Blake McCurdy of HockeyViz.com show the majority of the Knights’ 42 shots at Minnesota goalie Cam Talbot came from the perimeter as the Wild boxed out the middle of the ice.

That doesn’t include 23 blocked shots by Minnesota after it posted double-digit blocks in all eight regular-season meetings against the Knights. Defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore found it especially hard to get shots through.

Meanwhile, the Wild’s attempts were concentrated below the faceoff circles with several coming from the prime area in the slot. That forced Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to make nine high-danger saves.

During the regular season, the Knights had their most success against Minnesota producing chances off the rush and capitalizing on the power play.

William Karlsson had an opportunity in transition after a neutral-zone turnover in the first period but couldn’t convert.

DeBoer thinks if the Knights are able to play with the lead, the Wild will have to open up, and that could lead to more rush opportunities.

“We have to play a little bit quicker, try to catch them off guard a little bit more,” Tuch said. “Work to the front of the net, middle-lane drive, stuff like that. I don’t want to get too specific, but it’s all about work ethic. It’s all about a mentality to have.”

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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