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Knights experiment with forward lines in preseason win

The Golden Knights are not done experimenting with the regular season five days away.

Coach Bruce Cassidy has said throughout training camp that his forward lines are not written in ink. Even Thursday’s penultimate preseason game featuring the bulk of the NHL roster gave him a chance to try some new things out.

Cassidy mixed up his second and third lines during the first intermission of the Knights’ matchup with the Los Angeles Kings at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City. His team promptly flipped a 2-1 deficit into a 6-4 win that improved its preseason record to 3-3 with one game to go.

The one line Cassidy did not mess with was the top one of left wing Reilly Smith, center Jack Eichel and right wing Phil Kessel. It made sense. Smith scored two goals, including the game winner. Eichel had two assists to give him six points in three preseason games.

“I think they’ve been solid all preseason,” Cassidy said. “They seem to have developed some chemistry.”

The second and third lines were the ones that changed. Left wings Brett Howden and Jonathan Marchessault swapped places in the second period and gave both their new groups a boost.

Howden created several scoring chances playing with captain Mark Stone and center Chandler Stephenson. It helped that Stone, coming off his May back surgery, had an encouraging second preseason performance with two assists.

Marchessault scored a goal after he moved down to the third line with center William Karlsson and right wing Michael Amadio. The trio had chemistry last year in 105 minutes together at five-on-five and seemed to pick things back up.

Whether Cassidy keeps these new groups together remains to be seen. The Knights have one more preseason game Saturday before their season opener Tuesday.

“I think it balances our attack better,” Cassidy said. “It worked today for half the game, I thought, so we’ll see where it leads us on Saturday.”

Here are three more takeaways from the win:

1. Power play shows promise

The Knights want to finish the preseason by getting their power play more reps. Thursday was a start.

The Knights had nine of their 10 preferred power-play skaters — all except center Nicolas Roy, whose line sat out — in the lineup against the Kings. They were coming off an intensive special-teams practice Wednesday. Cassidy wanted to test them in a live game.

The performance was encouraging. The Knights went 1-for-3, with Smith scoring on the team’s third opportunity. Stephenson also scored a goal two seconds after a penalty expired off a feed from Stone.

It was a performance to build on after the Knights finished 25th on the power play last year.

2. Thompson’s off night

Cassidy said Tuesday rookie Logan Thompson was “a little ahead” in the Knights’ goaltending competition.

That may be the case, but Thompson didn’t shut the door on childhood friend Adin Hill on Thursday.

Thompson, nearly perfect in his first two preseason appearances, allowed four goals on 29 shots against the Kings. The first two goals he gave up came within the game’s first seven minutes.

Left wing Kevin Fiala beat Thompson with a backhand shot 1:52 in. Right wing Gabe Vilardi followed that up 4:17 later with a shot that snuck through the goaltender short-side and got into the net.

Thompson did recover from the game by going 3-for-3 in a practice shootout afterwards. He still has a .922 save percentage this preseason, while Hill’s is .900.

3. Only in preseason

The Knights won partly because of a fortunate break.

Kings center T.J. Tynan appeared to score a game-tying goal late in the second period. Replays on the KTNV-13 broadcast showed the puck crossing the goal line before defenseman Shea Theodore swatted it away. Almost all the Kings on the ice started celebrating.

The officials’ initial signal was no goal, however, and play continued on. The Knights took advantage of their distracted opponents, with Marchessault scoring to put them up 4-2.

The call wasn’t reviewed in the non-NHL building. Marchessault’s goal stood, providing a crazy turning point in a close game.

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

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