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Golden Knights’ penalty kill continues to suffocate opponents

Updated April 29, 2021 - 3:19 pm

The Colorado Avalanche’s star offensive players had a chance to spark their team four times Wednesday on the power play.

They came up empty all four times in a 5-2 loss to the Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena.

The Knights’ penalty kill has been stifling, suffocating and all-around spectacular this season no matter the opponent. The team leads the NHL with an 86.5 percent success rate, the highest since the 2015-16 season and the second-highest since 2012-13.

“They go over the boards expecting not only to kill the penalty but to create some momentum for our team, potentially score a goal, put some pressure on the other team,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “There’s a real confidence to the group that has been established. We want to make sure that we continue with that. It’s a big piece of our game.”

The Knights ranked 19th on the penalty kill when DeBoer arrived in January 2020, but by the time the postseason arrived, he had whipped the group into a top unit.

Right wing Reilly Smith said one of the keys is how everyone contributes. Ten skaters play more than a minute per game short-handed and 13 average more than 45 seconds. Goaltenders Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner have been excellent. The defensemen are getting into passing lanes and blocking shots, especially Alec Martinez.

“I think Marty has blocked like 200 shots,” Smith said of Martinez, who leads the league with 147.

Those contributions have kept the penalty kill consistent. Its worst month was March, when it ranked 11th in the NHL with an 83.7 percent success rate. The Knights’ previous best for an entire season was 81.4 percent.

“All of our D have done a great job with clears,” Smith said. “It’s a five-man unit when we’re out there. The most important person is always our goalies, and they’re seeing pucks and being able to freeze them when they get the opportunities to.”

Win streak stats

The Knights’ 10-game winning streak puts them in pretty exclusive company.

Adding to it against the Arizona Coyotes on Friday and Saturday could put them in even rarer air. The Knights are one of 56 teams in NHL history who have gone on a 10-game winning streak. Seven active franchises — Arizona, Carolina, Dallas, Detroit, Edmonton, Los Angeles and Winnipeg — have never done that.

Twenty-eight teams have won 11 straight, and 16 have won 12 in a row. The all-time record is 17 games, held by the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Knights will need to keep winning, DeBoer said.

“Like I told our group, I’m going to assume Colorado is probably going to win the rest of their games,” he said. “It was great to win last night and build up a little bit of a cushion, but I don’t think we’ve heard the last of them. We’re going to have to win a lot of these games in the last two weeks in order to keep ourselves ahead of them.”

Injury update

DeBoer said center Nicolas Roy, who did not play Wednesday because of an undisclosed injury, will travel with the Knights to Arizona.

AHL playoffs

The Silver Knights will play in a postseason this season.

The American Hockey League announced Thursday that it won’t have its traditional Calder Cup playoffs, but each of its five divisions was given the option of holding a postseason tournament.

The Pacific Division, which includes the Silver Knights, will be the only one to take advantage. The format will be announced later.

The Silver Knights (21-11-0) have the best points percentage in the Pacific Division in their inaugural season, but have lost seven of their past 10 games.

The AHL also announced that the 2021-22 season will begin Oct. 15 and end April 24, 2022. The divisions and schedule information will be released later.

Contact Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.

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