Updated January 27, 2022 - 8:34 pm
The Golden Knights were set up to give one of the NHL’s top teams their best shot Thursday.
Left wing Max Pacioretty returned after undergoing wrist surgery. Right wing Reilly Smith came out of the COVID-19 protocol. The Knights were as healthy as they have been all season.
It was enough for them to go toe-to-toe with the Florida Panthers on a poor sheet of ice at FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, Florida. But not enough to win.
The Knights couldn’t capitalize on enough of their chances and lost 4-1 after Florida pulled away late with two empty-net goals. The loss snapped their eight-game point streak on the road.
“It was just a couple of mistakes that kind of cost us,” said Smith, who missed the previous two games. “They gave us enough chances off turnovers and odd-man rushes. We just didn’t find good bounces and weren’t able to capitalize and execute on them.”
The Knights took a 1-0 lead on defenseman Zach Whitecloud’s goal 7:51 in, but the Panthers, who are first in the NHL in points (65) and tied for first in wins (30), did the rest of the scoring.
Center Aleksander Barkov scored a short-handed goal to tie the game with 29 seconds left in the first period. Center Sam Bennett gave Florida the lead with a wrist shot from 26 feet away 1:18 into the second.
The Knights could never find an answer. Pacioretty, who missed the previous 10 games, shot wide on a good look on the power play in the second period. Captain Mark Stone missed the net from 13 feet away 9:55 into the third.
The Knights eventually ran out of time. Left wing Mason Marchment took the puck from defenseman Shea Theodore and scored into an empty net with 54 seconds remaining for a 3-1 lead. Bennett added another empty-net goal 25 seconds later.
“I saw a lot of effort and a little bit of a lack of execution at the end,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “Plays that we would normally finish off, we were just off a little bit.”
Here are three more takeaways:
1. Key sequence
The game turned for the Knights at the end of the first period.
Stone was held up in the neutral zone by left wing Carter Verhaege with 1:17 remaining. The Knights got a power play, but Stone appeared to argue for a penalty shot because he would have had a breakaway if his stick wasn’t grabbed.
The decision proved crucial. Barkov scored short-handed 48 seconds later to tie the game.
“From the criteria I know, that looks like a penalty shot all day long to me,” DeBoer said.
It was the fifth goal the Knights have given up on the power play, tied for the fifth-most in the NHL. Philadelphia, New Jersey, Los Angeles and San Jose have allowed six.
The Knights finished 0-for-3 on the power play and are 0-for-10 three games into their four-game trip.
2. Whitecloud scores again
Whitecloud’s scoring touch continues to improve.
He beat rookie goaltender Spencer Knight with a wrist shot from the right circle after receiving a nice pass across the offensive zone from left wing Mattias Janmark. It looked similar to some of his other goals, but he said it wasn’t something he practiced in the offseason.
“I don’t think it’s something you specifically work on,” Whitecloud said. “You just try to be an outlet for our forwards. Our forwards have skill and just get into a spot where they can get you the puck.”
Whitecloud’s goal was his sixth in 30 games this season. He scored twice in his first 68 games.
The goal gave him 12 points, which tied his career high.
3. No comeback
The Knights have found ways to will themselves back into games. The Panthers have excelled at slamming the door on their opponents.
Florida won out Thursday.
The Panthers improved to 22-0-0 when leading after two periods. The Knights, tied for the third-most wins when trailing after two periods with four, couldn’t mount a comeback like they did Tuesday in Carolina.
They also have the fourth-most six-on-five goals with five, but allowed the two empty-netters.