Pete DeBoer said he hasn’t received an awkward glance from an official yet. But one might come if he keeps up his latest pregame tradition.
DeBoer has started his fourth line in nine straight games, regardless of who the opposition starts. On Monday, he was informed the Washington Capitals were sending out their top two scorers in franchise history — Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom — for the opening faceoff.
DeBoer didn’t hesitate. He told the officials he was countering with Tomas Nosek, William Carrier and Ryan Reaves.
“I think it’s important that we feel comfortable that we can put those guys out there and they’re going to hold their own and create some momentum,” DeBoer said. “They did that last night. I thought the first shift was great.”
The Knights were notoriously slow starters before DeBoer took over. The team had fallen behind 3-0 in four of its last five games before he was hired. So, during the bye week, he thought of ways to fix that.
The answer was at the bottom of his lineup card. Carrier and Reaves consistently fired up their teammates on the bench when they got on the ice and started hitting people. Why not have them do that right away?
“One thing about them is they bring energy, they’re ready to play,” DeBoer said. “I think they take a lot of pride in getting out there and setting the tone for the game.”
They’ve done so more often than not. Nosek, Reaves and Carrier have helped the Knights mostly stop creating large deficits for themselves. The team has scored first in six of its last nine games and has only fallen behind 2-0 once.
One of the only instances in which the fourth line failed was Feb. 13 against St. Louis. The Blues’ top line scored against the Knights’ fourth 25 seconds into the game.
“We took that one personally,” Carrier said. “I hope that one doesn’t happen again.”
Karlsson still recovering
Center William Karlsson has taken only two faceoffs in the past four games. He said the broken finger he suffered Jan. 14 against the Buffalo Sabres is still healing.
“I can’t really grip my stick 100 percent,” Karlsson said.
He said he expects the finger to feel better in a week.
‘Valley of Death’
DeBoer came up with a nickname for the Knights’ current five-game homestand: “Valley of Death.”
Four of the Knights’ five opponents are in playoff position, including the past two Stanley Cup champions and last season’s Presidents’ Trophy winner. The Knights have started 3-0 against them.
“It didn’t look too promising going in when I looked at the schedule,” said DeBoer, laughing. “I actually said to the other coaches, ‘Wow, you guys didn’t play anybody tough the first half of the year.’”
Whitecloud sent down
The Knights reassigned defenseman Zach Whitecloud to the American Hockey League on Tuesday.
Whitecloud has played in seven of the past eight games. The 23-year-old rookie has received praise from DeBoer and his teammates for his poise and steadiness.
“He’s an extremely talented young player,” defenseman Jon Merrill said. “He’s really eager to come in and get better every day, so he’s been a treat to play with.”