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Golden Knights make major change to defensive-zone coverage

Updated November 28, 2019 - 7:15 pm

For their entire existence, the Golden Knights have played a man-on-man coverage system in the defensive zone under coach Gerard Gallant.

But Wednesday’s 4-3 overtime victory over Nashville marked the first time the Knights used zone coverage, and they plan to stick with the new system against Arizona on Friday at T-Mobile Arena.

“I think that’s something that our coaching staff and management wanted to change to shake things up a little bit,” defenseman Shea Theodore said. “It’s a completely different way than we’ve played since the team came here. There is going to be that slight adjustment period of communicating, and some of those goals (Wednesday), those are just working out those kinks.

“I thought we did a pretty good job for the most part, and it’s going to be a pretty good system going forward.”

The Knights’ previous system called for the defensemen and forwards to stay with their man throughout the defensive zone with the occasional switch, similar to basketball.

But Gallant said opposing teams too often were exploiting the Knights in the slot when the coverage broke down.

“We found some teams were taking advantage of some stuff and giving them too much open ice,” Gallant said.

The focus of the new system is to guard the middle of the ice while keeping shots to the perimeter, similar to the philosophy used by the New York Islanders.

“At this point in the season, we just feel like we’re giving up too much in our zone,” defenseman Jon Merrill said. “We made a few tweaks to hopefully protect the good ice in the slot there and have more guys come back and kind of pack it in.”

The Knights struggled at times against Nashville, particularly in the second period when Roman Josi’s playmaking caused confusion in the defensive zone. The Predators finished with a 34-28 advantage in shots on goal during regulation.

But one hope is the new system will allow the Knights to conserve energy since they’re not chasing the puck all over the zone.

“You’ve got to change it up a little bit when things aren’t going well,” right wing Reilly Smith said. “It was good to see our group mold our defensive system a little bit and come out with a win.”

Fleury likely out vs. Coyotes

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury remains on personal leave in Montreal and isn’t expected to be available for Friday’s game, Gallant said.

Fleury, who turned 35 on Thursday, left the team Tuesday because of a serious family illness. There is no timetable for his return.

Zykov sent to AHL

Suspended Golden Knights forward Valentin Zykov cleared waivers Thursday and was assigned to the American Hockey League.

Zykov was eligible to return Friday from his 20-game suspension for violating the terms of the NHL/NHL Players Association Performance Enhancing Substances Program.

Turkey time stats

The Knights (12-11-4, 28 points) enjoyed their Thanksgiving meal as they sat in the final wild-card position in the Western Conference, which has become an important predictor of success.

Since the 2005-06 season, more than 75 percent of teams that are in a playoff position on Thanksgiving have gone on to make the postseason.

Last season, five teams came from out of the playoffs on Thanksgiving to qualify, including the Knights and Stanley Cup champion St. Louis.

More Golden Knights: Follow at reviewjournal.com/GoldenKnights and @HockeyinVegas on Twitter.

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

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