LOS ANGELES — Chandler Stephenson spilled the beans about the Golden Knights’ new forecheck after the penultimate preseason game and admitted it’s a work in progress.
But the speedy center was the beneficiary of that new system, and his go-ahead goal in the opening victory over Seattle was a good example of the Knights’ commitment to squeezing teams in the neutral zone this season.
“I think it’s been a good change. It fits us,” center William Karlsson said Wednesday. “We want to play aggressive, try to force those turnovers. It’s not perfect yet, but I think more as we get playing, it’s going to get better.”
Stephenson scored the winning goal 8:33 into the third period after right wing Mark Stone stepped in front of a long, diagonal pass by Kraken defenseman Adam Larsson.
The Knights took away Larsson’s passing options, with defenseman Alec Martinez stepping up to pressure Seattle right wing Jordan Eberle near the red line and Max Pacioretty cutting off the outlet through the middle of the ice to center Jared McCann.
Rather than sending a pass to his defense partner, Larsson went for the riskier play, and Stone quickly transitioned the other way into a three-on-three rush that ended with Stephenson knocking the puck into the net off the outside of his right skate.
“We came into camp and we want to turn more pucks over in that area of the ice,” Knights coach Pete DeBoer said. “We’re really pressing up in that area trying to create turnovers for our transition game. I thought that was a byproduct of guys being in the right spots, and of course (Stone has) got a great anticipation and mind for knowing when to do that.”
Stone’s interception distracted from the Knights’ true focus in the neutral zone, which seems to be funneling pucks to areas where defensemen can challenge puck carriers early.
Had Larsson’s pass connected with intended target Jaden Schwartz, defenseman Alex Pietrangelo was patrolling the middle of the ice near the Knights’ blue line ready to kill any play before it developed.
Previously in those situations, the Knights’ defensemen would back off and give opposing forwards room to operate.
“That’s what we can do. That’s a prime example of it, Pietrangelo said. “When we’re transitioning forward as quick as that, I think it’s hard to defend against. That was like a bang-bang play. Stoney picks it off, we’re just going the other way and it’s a goal.
“I thought we had a lot of opportunities like that. We didn’t score on all of them, but those are the things I think in our new neutral zone we’re going to be able to do.”
The Knights, who face the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday at Staples Center, feasted on transition offense in their inaugural season. The past two postseasons, they’ve struggled to generate rush chances and were eliminated one step shy of the Stanley Cup Final.
DeBoer is hoping the change of neutral-zone tactics allows the Knights to create more chances off the rush like Tuesday.
“This has been a historically great rush team,” DeBoer said. “So, how do you create more rush? We’ve come up with a plan to be more aggressive in the neutral zone, try and turn over more pucks to try and create some of that transition rush.”
Who: Golden Knights at Kings
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles
TV: AT&T SportsNet (Cox 313/1313, DirecTV 684, CenturyLink 760/1760, U-verse 757/1757)
Radio: KKGK (98.9 FM, 1340 AM)
Line: Knights -155; total 5½