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Golden Knights struggle to find identity through 20 games

Updated November 14, 2019 - 7:56 pm

Through the first quarter of the season, the Golden Knights are still searching for an identity and playing style that will produce points on a consistent basis.

At times, they’ve opted for a risk-averse approach and hunkered down in the defensive zone, which has produced mixed results because of their inability to hold leads in the third period.

In other games, the Knights went with a go-for-broke, firewagon system that backfired when the defense was left vulnerable against the opposition’s high-end skill.

It’s somewhere in the middle that the Knights have found their most success, though striking that balance consistently has been difficult to achieve.

“It’s definitely trying to find that blend of being able to stay aggressive and in on the forecheck but also being responsible defensively at the same time,” defenseman Jon Merrill said. “We’ve got such a character group in here and guys want to win so bad, it just kind of turns into doing too much at certain times.”

Leading into Wednesday’s game against Chicago at T-Mobile Arena, the Knights said they wanted to play faster and be more aggressive, evidenced by their defensemen taking several chances trying to join the rush.

That led to the Knights having a decided advantage in shots on goal (42-26) and total shot attempts (72-44), but it also came at the expense of the defense.

The Blackhawks created multiple odd-man rushes, and the high-danger scoring chances at 5-on-5 ended 14-13 in favor of the Knights, according to the website NaturalStatTrick.

The outcome was similar to losses against Nashville (5-2 on Oct. 15) and Colorado (6-1 on Oct. 25) when the Knights tried to trade scoring chances with high-end offensive teams and came up well short.

“We’ve got the capability to score some goals, but again, (Wednesday) night, it was too wide open,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “To watch those chances against, it bothers you as a coach. But again, we created so much offense, it was exciting to see that, too. It’s a fine line.”

If a wide-open style hasn’t totally suited the Knights, neither has a conservative game plan.

They built a lead against Montreal and Winnipeg two weeks ago, then tried to protect it in the third period and went on to lose both games in overtime.

The tactic didn’t work Sunday at Detroit, either, as the Knights squeezed the life out of the game for 50 minutes, then gave up two late goals and lost 3-2 to the last-place Red Wings.

“We’ve got to get back to getting pesky. Pesky Knights,” center William Karlsson said. “I think we all just have got to have that mindset. They score, we score. Be more resilient. It’s not easy just to go out there and do it and say you’re going to do it. You’ve got to work hard for it. But we’ve got to believe in it more.”

Gallant pointed to a 5-2 victory over Anaheim on Oct. 27 as the blueprint for how he wants his team to play, though it’s too much to expect a 49-15 discrepancy on the shot clock every time out.

A more realistic example of the balance between offense and defense probably is the game at Toronto on Nov. 7.

The Knights were dangerous off the rush in the first period despite giving up almost twice as many shots on goal, then held the Maple Leafs without a shot on goal for the first 13:16 of the second.

Had the Knights not lost 2-1 in overtime, that performance might be remembered as one to copy and paste going forward.

“I think if we take care of the puck, we play simple, we play as a five-man unit, we play fast and hard, I think we can be unstoppable,” wing Alex Tuch said. “We can be a force to be reckoned with in the league.”

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

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

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