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In-zone offense will be Golden Knights’ focus for next season

Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer compared his roster to a Porsche in a videoconference Wednesday, and the analogy makes sense given his team’s blazing speed and excellent transition game.

But the Knights are still learning how to be at their best when they’re not just flooring it on the highway. The Dallas Stars worked to limit the chances they gave up off the rush in the Western Conference Final and largely succeeded.

The Knights weren’t able to find a counterpunch at five-on-five when that happened. Their offense dried up, and soon their Stanley Cup chase was over.

Things need to be different next season if they want a better result.

“When I took the job, I think the M.O. on this team was great rush team, but we didn’t have a lot of that five-on-five in-zone offense,” DeBoer said. “I thought our group definitely got better at that offensive zone game and getting used to that. It’s something that we continue to have to work at because we’re not going to be strictly that type of team, but if you’re going to win, you have to be a team that if they take away rush, you can grind some goals.”

The Knights aren’t just good at transition hockey. They’re one of the NHL’s best teams off the rush.

They come at their opponents in waves, which makes them difficult to slow. Teams can focus for a shift or two against William Karlsson’s or Paul Stastny’s line. But third-line right wing Alex Tuch might be the Knights’ most dangerous offensive player once he reaches top speed.

That depth is a huge reason the team ranked third in five-on-five chances off the rush in the regular season, according to ThePointHockey.com. It also ranked third in five-on-five shot attempts off the rush, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.

Playoff opponents did a better job slowing the pace. The Stars and Vancouver Canucks focused on limiting the transition game and making the Knights, in basketball terms, outexecute them in the halfcourt.

“When you play a team like Dallas or Vancouver, they backcheck hard, they really clog up the middle and they make sure you’re not getting those odd-man rushes,” right wing Reilly Smith said. “You may get one or two a game, but you really have to make sure you cash in because you don’t get those opportunities often.”

The Knights’ next step is to figure out other ways to score if that happens. There are few teams like Dallas with mobile enough defensemen capable of limiting their rush chances. But those teams are more likely to be around late in the postseason.

The Knights scored just one five-on-five goal against the Stars after getting set up in the offensive zone. They were in dire need of a tip, deflection or rebound chance to get them going.

DeBoer doesn’t think the issue is personnel-related. He thinks the Knights could improve through mindset and habit changes without needing a roster move.

If that’s the case, the team could be a tweak away from an unstoppable offense.

“The better teams are more patient and aren’t going to feed your transition,” Stastny said. “The further you go, more teams are patient, more teams dump it in and try to play that heavy style and try to grind you.”

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

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