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Peter DeBoer’s changes to Golden Knights starting to show

Updated January 20, 2020 - 7:24 pm

BOSTON — With games to worry about and a locker room full of players to learn, Peter DeBoer has only been able to do so much over the past few days to put his stamp on the Golden Knights.

A little tweak here. A small adjustment there.

Essentially, the new coach went under the hood and performed a quick tune-up rather than rebuilding the entire engine.

But at least two changes emerged from DeBoer’s first two games, with the Knights altering their penalty killing system and distributing ice time differently among the forwards and defensemen.

“For me, I’m just starting to plant seeds,” DeBoer said. “You want to see them start thinking about some situations, but you also want them to do it without slowing down or overthinking. That’s the fine line. We’ve got a smart group. I’m not changing everything here or reinventing the wheel.”

DeBoer has been making use of the Knights’ plentiful practice time on this road trip. He said he also will use the upcoming All-Star break and ensuing bye week to meet with his assistant coaches and implement more significant changes.

For now, DeBoer’s fingerprints are most evident on the Knights’ penalty-killing unit, which was tied for 22nd at 78.9 percent entering Monday.

“I think it’s just at different points in the penalty kill, we’re trying to work on more pressure right now,” forward Reilly Smith said. “We still have some things to learn and things to tweak and get better at. But we’re trying to do our best in practice.”

Under coach Gerard Gallant and assistant coach Mike Kelly, the Knights’ penalty killers pressured the puck carrier high up the ice in hopes of disrupting the opposing power play or creating a turnover.

The Knights had a top-seven penalty kill through the first three months, but they allowed a power-play goal in seven straight games before holding the Canadiens off the board in their lone attempt Saturday.

With DeBoer in charge, the Knights now are challenging entries at the blue line and pressuring the puck once opposing power plays set up in the offensive zone.

“Our last one we were pretty aggressive up ice,” defenseman Brayden McNabb said. “This one, we’re maybe a little more aggressive in-zone on certain things. Little adjustments, but it’s all stuff I think that will work and help us get better on the penalty kill.”

Another area where DeBoer has made an impact is ice time, with the shifts spread more evenly among the forwards.

Against Montreal, the third line of Cody Eakin, Alex Tuch and William Carrier each played nearly three more minutes at 5-on-5 than their season average. The Knights’ fourth line also has seen a bump in its usage the past two games.

On defense, DeBoer has leaned heavily on Shea Theodore, who logged a career-high 28:43 of ice time in the shootout loss to Montreal on Saturday.

“If we’re down 3-0, he’s going to play that much. That’s the Brent Burns/Erik Karlsson rule,” DeBoer said of his former players in San Jose. “I think he’s at the stage of his career where he can be relied on. You don’t want to load those minutes on a guy nightly, but situationally and in spots like that, absolutely.”

Theodore averages 18:37 of even-strength ice time and played 21:32 in that situation against the Senators. He logged 25:29 at even strength against the Canadiens, with the Knights chasing the game most of the way.

Theodore has played more than 23 minutes in six straight games after receiving that workload a total of eight times all last season.

Meanwhile, McNabb sat the final 7:48 and all of overtime against Montreal with the Knights trailing. Deryk Engelland was on the bench for all but eight seconds of the final 9:31 and OT.

Engelland played 11:41 at even strength against Ottawa, well below his average of 14:14.

“I think anybody, they want to have that part of their game to play lots of minutes and be counted on when the game is tight and when you’re coming back,” Theodore said. “I’m just trying to bring that and trying to show coach that’s what I can do.”

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

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