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Golden Knights grow into game during round robin

The Golden Knights scored on their first shot of the postseason round robin as well as their last while going 3-0.

But it wasn’t necessarily a smooth road to the No. 1 seed. Mistakes were made. Penalties were taken.

Along the way, the Knights grew into their game and should feel good about six of the final seven periods they played, with the first 20 minutes against Colorado being the exception.

“The one thing I learned about our group was how committed they are to try to win a Stanley Cup,” coach Pete DeBoer said.

The Knights meet Chicago in the Western Conference quarterfinals, but before that, here are four key takeaways from the round robin:

1. DeBoer’s dilemma

To hear NBC Sports analysts Anson Carter and Keith Jones talk about the Knights’ goaltending situation, one would think it’s a done deal goalie Robin Lehner will start Game 1 against the Blackhawks.

Carter made his opinion clear during the broadcast of Saturday’s game against the Avalanche that Lehner will supplant three-time Stanley Cup champion Marc-Andre Fleury to begin the playoffs.

Fleury flirted with a shutout against Arizona in the exhibition game, but appeared to press during his start against St. Louis in the round robin. He allowed a goal on the first shot he faced and was caught well out of his crease for the Blues’ third goal.

Lehner went walkabout on a couple of occasions against Colorado, too, but his 32-save effort to clinch the top seed may have been enough to win the No. 1 job.

“We’ve got two starters and great luxury to have,” DeBoer said. “How we’re going to roll them out is to be determined.”

2. A star is born

Think back to the start of the 2018-19 season when Shea Theodore was a restricted free agent and missed the first five games of the preseason while negotiating a new contract.

Theodore’s side preferred a two-year deal believing that if the defenseman continued to develop, he would command a huge salary on his next contract.

The Knights eventually signed Theodore to a seven-year contract with an average annual value of $5.2 million.

But imagine what he would cost as a free agent this offseason had the shorter bridge deal been signed? More than $8 million per season? Maybe $9 million?

Theodore had four points in the three round-robin games and averaged more than 24 minutes of ice time.

3. Something special?

The Knights’ penalty kill was a focus for DeBoer during training camp after they finished 27th overall in the regular season. He once coached the most efficient penalty-killing unit in NHL history with the Devils, so it probably grinded his gears to see the Knights leak goals while short-handed.

During the round robin, the Knights went 8-for-10 on the penalty kill and continued to improve along the way. They successfully killed five of six against Colorado after shutting out St. Louis on its three man-advantages.

Defenseman Zach Whitecloud and forward Nicolas Roy were handed increased responsibility on the top unit, one of the biggest adjustments made by DeBoer and assistant coach Steve Spott.

The Knights can’t afford to let down against Chicago, which was 28th on the power play before the pause at 15.2 percent.

4. Depth finder

One of the biggest developments of the postseason is the production of the third line with Alex Tuch, Roy and Nick Cousins.

Tuch leads the Knights with three goals and buried the winner late in overtime against Colorado to clinch the No. 1 seed. Roy also scored Saturday and has two assists, and Cousins has three assists.

That trio also combined for two goals and five assists in the exhibition victory over Arizona on July 30.

With Max Pacioretty set to return, DeBoer must decide how to work Chandler Stephenson into the mix. It might mean Cousins goes back to centering the fourth line.

“We have to have three lines that are dangerous offensively,” DeBoer said. “It’s starting to feel like we have that.”

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

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