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Golden Knights must devise new game plan on defense for Canadiens

The Golden Knights spent the first two rounds of the postseason holding the opposition’s star players in check.

They will have to devise a different game plan against Montreal.

The Canadiens lack an elite talent at forward and present a different challenge for the NHL’s top defense during the Stanley Cup semifinals, which begin Monday at T-Mobile Arena.

“Every team brings a few different things,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “I think when I look at this team, they’ve got a nice blend of physicality on defense and a world-class goalie. And speed and pressure up front.”

The Knights allowed a league-low 2.18 goals per game during the regular season and are fourth in the postseason at 2.38 through 13 games.

In the first round against the Minnesota Wild, they didn’t pass up an opportunity to pound forward Kirill Kaprizov and limited the rookie of the year finalist to three points (two goals, one assist) in seven games.

DeBoer used the line of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith frequently against Kaprizov’s line at five-on-five. Defenseman Shea Theodore also was matched against Kaprizov often and used his skating to keep up when the Wild’s leading scorer had the puck in the offensive zone.

Kaprizov managed one assist in the first four games as the Knights took a 3-1 series lead before he scored in Games 5 and 7.

To slow Colorado Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon in the West Division final, the Knights used the line featuring Selke Trophy finalist Mark Stone with the last change at home.

MacKinnon was allowed to roam free through the neutral zone in Game 1 and caught defenseman Nic Hague flat-footed in the second period before scoring his second goal in a 7-1 thumping.

From that point on in the series, the Knights focused their efforts on containing the MVP candidate and had someone waiting in the neutral zone to reroute MacKinnon when he carried the puck.

Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar received similar attention from the Knights after his four-point showing in Game 1. Whenever Makar tried to make a move at the point, the Knights defense collapsed and forced him to give up the puck.

Montreal sets up differently, with winger Tyler Toffoli the primary scoring threat. He was seventh in the league during the regular season with 28 goals and tops the Canadiens with 10 points (four goals, six assists) in the playoffs, but will not be mistaken for MacKinnon or Kaprizov.

Phillip Danault centers the No. 1 line that serves in a shutdown role for coach Dominique Ducharme. The Canadiens rank 11th in the postseason in scoring at 2.55 goals per game.

Meanwhile, Montreal’s most prominent players are on defense (Shea Weber and Jeff Petry) and in goal, where former Vezina Trophy winner Carey Price resides.

“We’ll prep as best we can, and we’ll be ready to play our game,” Smith said. “Obviously, a few adjustments playing Montreal, but I think when we’re at our best we’re really focused on what we do and letting other teams adjust to that.”

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

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