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Knights seek to end skid after dropping in division standings

Updated March 3, 2024 - 4:18 pm

The Golden Knights have one more chance to get back on track before the end of a disappointing road trip.

The Knights face the Columbus Blue Jackets at 4 p.m. Monday, which will mark their final game in the Eastern time zone this season. It should be a favorable matchup. The Blue Jackets have the fewest points in the Eastern Conference and the fourth-fewest in the NHL.

The Knights (33-21-7) know they need a win. The short-handed defending Stanley Cup champions are 2-6-1 their last nine games, a stretch that has been played without center Jack Eichel, left wing William Carrier and — for the past five contests — captain Mark Stone.

The slide has affected their spot in the standings. The Knights have dropped to third place in the Pacific Division behind the Edmonton Oilers (36-20-2), who have played three fewer games. Fourth-place Los Angeles (31-19-10) is also right on their heels. The Kings are one point behind the Knights with a game in hand.

That doesn’t mean a playoff spot is in jeopardy. But it’s also not a guarantee. The Knights are looking at an uphill climb as well after enjoying home-ice advantage their entire run last postseason.

The Knights have 73 points with 21 games remaining. The top three teams in the Pacific make the playoffs, as well as two wild cards from the Western Conference. Los Angeles holds the first wild-card spot and has 72 points with 22 games remaining. Nashville (35-25-2), which has 72 points with 20 games to go, has the second.

Calgary (30-25-5) and St. Louis (31-26-3) are currently the first two teams out. Both have 65 points with 22 games remaining.

The Knights are still in a good position with their lead on the Flames and Blues. They have an 88.2 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to the website MoneyPuck. But as of right now they’d start the postseason on the road against the Oilers. They’d be on the road against one of the two Western Conference division winners if they get passed up by the Kings.

That’s not what the Knights had envisioned for their title defense after starting the season 11-0-1.

“Tomorrow is a new day and we have to find it,” defenseman Brayden McNabb said after Saturday’s 7-2 loss to Buffalo. “It’s just about getting back to work. We don’t have everyone in the lineup. That’s not an excuse, but we have to play a certain way and the right way. We didn’t (Saturday) and it cost us.”

The Knights hope help comes soon.

Eichel could return from his lower-body injury Monday against the Blue Jackets or Thursday against the Pacific-leading Vancouver Canucks. Carrier might not be far behind in his recovery from a shoulder injury. Forwards Brett Howden and Pavel Dorofeyev could also be in the mix soon. Howden has an upper-body injury and Dorofeyev hasn’t played since being elbowed in the head Jan. 26.

The Knights could get a boost from outside the organization as well. The NHL’s trade deadline is Friday and the team always explores ways to get better.

Coach Bruce Cassidy also knows the team can’t operate on the assumption that a few new names in the lineup will fix everything.

Cassidy has lamented the Knights’ poor decision making and defensive structure in recent games. The team has allowed 30 goals its last six contests despite having its six regular defensemen and top two goaltenders healthy.

“We’ll piece together some forward lines hopefully to get enough offense, but we have to stay in the game and be better back there,” Cassidy said.

The Blue Jackets (20-30-10) should provide an opportunity for the Knights to figure it out. Columbus averages 2.93 goals per game, ninth-fewest in the NHL. The Blue Jackets’ 3.65 goals allowed per game is the second-most in the league.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on X.

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