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Golden Knights’ system change influenced by Lightning’s success

Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer had several reasons for switching to a 1-1-3 neutral-zone forecheck this season, not the least of which was his own familiarity and success with the system.

But in a copycat league like the NHL, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s success using the scheme did not go unnoticed, either.

The Knights will see the league’s master practitioners of the 1-1-3 neutral-zone setup Saturday when they close out their difficult road trip against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning at Amalie Arena.

“It was a matter of obviously seeing that Tampa was using it effectively, but also I have a long history with it, felt as you get to know the group that it could help our group,” DeBoer said. “It’s still a work in progress. I like what it’s done for our group when we play it well, but we’ve still got to work on some of the details of it.”

New Jersey reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2012 using the 1-1-3 when DeBoer was behind the bench. But he was reluctant to go away from the 1-2-2 system that brought the Knights so much success their first four seasons after being hired in January 2020.

The change this season was partly influenced by Tampa Bay’s success using the 1-1-3 and how well it’s worked for other teams recently.

Washington won the 2018 Stanley Cup under coach Barry Trotz, who then helped transform the New York Islanders into a contender with the system. The Knights were eliminated from the playoffs the past two seasons by Dallas and Montreal, each of which utilized a defensive-minded version of the 1-1-3 structure.

Unlike the Knights’ old system, the 1-1-3 has the weak-side winger lined up with the defensemen across the blue line to deny zone entries. The idea is to create more turnovers in the neutral zone, which in turn lead to more transition scoring chances off the rush.

But learning the new forecheck was an adjustment for the Knights early, and the rash of injuries and new players in the lineup didn’t ease the transition.

“There’s still breakdowns, and good teams find little ways to expose it every now and then, off a change or whatnot,” center Chandler Stephenson said. “Everybody is on the same page now and knows where each other is going to be. It’s just getting better and better. As we keep going here, it’s just going to consistently get better. Hopefully it helps our game in transition.”

The Knights stuck to their system in Monday’s 1-0 win over Washington before Carolina’s pressure flipped the script the following night. Florida also found life difficult for a good portion of the final two periods Thursday before dropping the Knights to 1-1-1 on the trip.

If the Knights can limit the Lightning, they can end their four-game swing through the southeast on a high note.

“It’s just repetitions at this part of the season,” defenseman Shea Theodore said. “We’re going through stretches where we’ve really got it down pat, and we’re turning a lot of pucks over in the neutral zone, and that’s really adding to our offense. If we stick with the plan that Pete’s giving us, we can really start to excel in that area.”

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

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