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Golden Knights’ Pete DeBoer ready for challenges of unique season

Updated December 12, 2020 - 6:32 pm

Pete DeBoer’s offseason started with a simple request: He wanted to drive home.

The Golden Knights coach hadn’t been behind the wheel of a car for 51 days when his team left the NHL’s secure zone in Edmonton, Alberta. So he wanted to get his feel for the road again when his wife picked him up from the airport after the team’s loss in the Western Conference Final. She slid over to the passenger seat, and DeBoer was able to step on the gas.

That, of course, is not all DeBoer accomplished during his break. He finally moved into the Las Vegas home he purchased before the COVID-19 pandemic. He assisted the team with charity work. And recently, he began having meetings with his staff to map out how he wants his first full season in the organization to start.

“When you don’t win, whether you’re in the last four standing or the last two standing, everyone but the (Stanley Cup champion) Tampa Bay Lighting is ready a week after the season to get back at it,” DeBoer said.

DeBoer has been the Knights’ coach for almost 11 months, but there are still a lot of things he’s getting used to.

He’s only lived in his new house since Nov. 1. He’s coached just 10 games at T-Mobile Arena. He also has a new roster to sort out after the Knights’ active offseason.

Center Paul Stastny and defenseman Nate Schmidt were traded. Forward Nick Cousins and defenseman Jon Merrill joined other teams. Defenseman Deryk Engelland didn’t re-sign.

The upshot is the team snagged the crown jewel of the free-agent class in defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, a Stanley Cup champion and three-time All Star.

“We lost some good people, but I’m really excited about (Pietrangelo),” said DeBoer, who coached the defenseman as a Team Canada assistant. “When you start looking at the true No. 1 defensemen in the league, the guys that can play both ends of the rink, contribute offensively (and) defensively, play big minutes against top players, are durable, that list is pretty short. And he’s one of them.”

The Knights also re-signed Robin Lehner, whom DeBoer thinks was one of the NHL’s five best goaltenders in the past three seasons. The move created an interesting — and expensive — goalie situation with franchise icon Marc-Andre Fleury still in the fold. DeBoer thinks he can juggle both netminders, as he did in the playoffs by giving Lehner 16 starts and Fleury four.

He called having both at his disposal “a huge advantage” because the league probably will try to cram in as many games as possible once it starts playing.

“I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about it,” DeBoer said. “I feel very confident in both guys. I thought (Fleury) was excellent for us in the playoffs. I thought he came back, got better and better and really gave us some quality starts. I’m very excited about having two guys like that, especially with a condensed season.”

DeBoer has time to think about his goalie rotation. The NHL is reportedly targeting a Jan. 13 start date, though nothing is official.

Until then, he’ll continue to prepare for a season that should be unlike any other the league has attempted. COVID-19 threatens to affect every team and has already impacted the Knights.

Four players tested positive for the virus, the team said Nov. 23. DeBoer said all have recovered, but one had “fairly significant symptoms.” The player was not hospitalized.

Still, the news was an early sign of the challenges the NHL faces as it attempts to begin a season during a pandemic.

“I think it’s inevitable with where this is going and what’s gone on in the world and the country that we were going to deal with this,” DeBoer said. “We have a fantastic training staff and group of doctors that’s right on top of this. For as much comfort as you can have considering the environment in the world and the country right now, we feel as good as we can about it.”

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

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