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Golden Knights find success playing variety of styles

In a typical hockey season, coaches and players start to get an idea of a team’s identity a quarter of the way through the schedule.

The Golden Knights hit that mark Tuesday when they meet Colorado at T-Mobile Arena in Game No. 14 of 56. And what coach Pete DeBoer has learned so far is their best ability is adaptability.

“I think this team is built to compete any way you want to play the game,” he said following Sunday’s 1-0 victory over the Avalanche. “If you want to have a physical, grind-it-out, 1-0 game, we can play that game. We can also skate and score if we need to on a given night if it’s going to be a more open game.”

To DeBoer’s point, the Knights (10-2-1, 21 points) have played a variety of styles en route to first place in the West Division and a plus-13 goal differential.

In the matchups against Anaheim and Arizona, two defensive-minded teams, the Knights frequently relied on their goaltending and superior offensive firepower to take 12 of a possible 16 points.

They grinded out a road win at San Jose on Saturday thanks to special teams and tight defensive structure over the final 40 minutes and showed off their speed against Los Angeles in two high-event games.

When they were challenged by St. Louis to a mano-a-mano offensive showdown Jan. 26, the Knights had the edge except on the scoreboard.

The Knights owned a 62.2 percent share of the shot attempts at five-on-five in the 5-4 shootout loss to the Blues and finished with a 39-30 advantage in scoring chances at all strengths, according to NaturalStatTrick.

Colorado presents a different challenge, and the Knights responded with a more conservative game plan to secure a 1-0 victory in the first of four straight matchups between the West Division powers.

Rather than trying to trade chances with the high-powered Avalanche, the Knights absorbed the pressure and leaned on their defense. When fatigue set in during the third period, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was there to protect the lead.

The Knights struggled to execute that blueprint in the Western Conference Final against Dallas, losing four one-goal games.

But they are 5-1-1 in those games this season. Sunday provided more optimism that this version of the Knights is better equipped to handle the cagey, low-scoring affairs come playoff time.

“I love the fact that we came in with a commitment to our game plan and stuck with it for 60 minutes. I think it’s the first time this year I probably have felt like that after 60 minutes,” DeBoer said Sunday. “We’ve played some good stretches of hockey and obviously done a lot of winning, but it took a 60-minute commitment to it to beat a very good team.

“It’s nice that we’re 13 games in and have the ability to play that game. We’re going to need it more consistently down the stretch.”

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

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