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Golden Knights say they must get back to ‘in-your-face’ hockey

Updated November 12, 2019 - 8:43 pm

The Golden Knights woke up Tuesday out of the playoff picture, two days after completing a 1-2-1 road trip.

There’s no question that’s disappointing for a franchise that has developed a large amount of pride in its first three seasons.

The Knights (9-7-3) remain talented. The core of two playoff teams is there. But it will take effort, discipline and resilience to maximize it — lessons the Knights have learned the hard way through 19 games. They can’t overwhelm opponents with skill. They can’t coast to victories. They need to play “in-your-face hockey,” as left wing Max Pacioretty termed it, even when things don’t go their way.

They’ll try to do so against the Chicago Blackhawks (6-7-4) at 7 p.m. Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena.

“We’re not a team that has some of the superstar skill that wants to get into shootouts and (get into) back-and-forth action with teams,” Pacioretty said. “We want to grind teams down. We want to play as a unit of five. We want to forecheck. We want to backcheck. We’re not going to float around and wait for opportunities to come and create highlight-reel goals.”

It’s not that the Knights haven’t done the things Pacioretty mentioned. But they haven’t done them consistently. The team plays well for stretches, then suffers a lapse. Or makes a mistake.

And not recovering.

“I just think right now you may have times in the game where things may not go your way and you can’t shrug your shoulders back and slouch down on the bench,” defenseman Nate Schmidt said. “You have to attack those types of things. There’s things that are going to go wrong. How you handle that can describe where your team is.”

A simple stat illustrates Schmidt’s point. The Knights are 2-5-2 when their opponent scores first, worse than their 16-21-3 mark last season and 17-19-5 record in 2017-18. If they get ahead, they roll. If they don’t, more often than not, they flounder.

Bridging that gap is the Knights’ mission. Making sure they attack the same way whether they’re leading or trailing.

Coach Gerard Gallant called on his team Tuesday to string more scoring chances together, create more transition opportunities and play better in its defensive zone. If the Knights do that, there’s no reason they can’t get back on track.

After all, despite their sloppy start, they entered Tuesday just five points out of the Pacific Division lead. They were two points behind second-place Calgary despite playing one fewer game.

“I’m not happy right now, but we’re still not at rock bottom here,” Gallant said. “We just got to play better. We’ve got to get our game going better and be more consistent. That’s all.”

Pacioretty and Schmidt said that starts with constantly being in attack mode, no matter the score.

“We’ve got to create an identity here quickly that we’re resilient in terms of if we let up a goal, we’re going to come back and play right-back-in-your-face hockey,” Pacioretty said. “That hasn’t been the case. We let up a goal, we play too much on our heels.”

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

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

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