Peter DeBoer veered from his original plan to spoon feed the Golden Knights his systems and decided it was a group that could handle having more thrown its way before the All-Star break and bye week.
Near the top of DeBoer’s to-do list during his first week as coach was to get the Knights playing faster.
“We always said we wanted to play with speed, but there are some tweaks that we’ve made that should allow us to do so, both up front and on the back end,” leading scorer Max Pacioretty said. “All coaches have their different systems or versions of trying to get teams to play fast. I’m interested to see Pete’s because he didn’t want to throw the whole kitchen sink there at us the first couple days.”
DeBoer didn’t come right out and say it, but from the outside looking in, the former San Jose coach saw a team that lost its identity.
The relentlessness, speed and physicality, traits that were staples in the Knights’ infancy, had started to dip.
With 30 games remaining, that’s what DeBoer hopes to recapture starting with Thursday’s practice in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“Every coach has things that are important to him and his style of play and his identity, and those are never the same,” DeBoer said. “For me, playing aggressive and dictating games and wearing teams down with our depth, we have the ability to roll four lines and be really hard to play against. I think we want to get back to that.
“Not that that slipped totally off the table, but that’s something this team did better than anybody in the league for a long time. We want to try to get that type of identity back.”
Pacioretty couldn’t — or wouldn’t — pinpoint why the Knights weren’t playing as fast as they had previously under coach Gerard Gallant.
Whether it was through personnel changes or other mitigating factors, the Knights evolved away from the buzzing style that made them so fun to watch during their inaugural season.
The acquisition of Chandler Stephenson from Washington in December finally replaced the element of speed that was lost with center Erik Haula’s 2018 knee injury and subsequent trade.
It’s a heavier version of the Knights, built for the rigors of the postseason. Gallant acknowledged as much before he was fired as coach Jan. 15, as did DeBoer at his introductory news conference, when he noted this was his kind of team.
But that doesn’t mean it can’t pick up the pace.
“You have to play fast today if you want to have success at this level,” DeBoer said.
One of the first points of emphasis for DeBoer during practice was exiting the zone with control of the puck, preferably through the middle of the ice, and then crashing the net.
Pacioretty expects to see more changes to the Knights’ system for retrieving pucks and breaking out of their defensive zone.
“Making sure everyone’s in the right position, so it’s cemented into our brains as to, if you go back a certain way, where your help will be, which side of the net. That’s kind of the stuff we’ve heard so far,” Pacioretty said. “A lot more will be thrown at us, and things could change pretty quickly when it comes to that.”
The Knights play Friday at Carolina, then face a crucial month with the likes of Tampa Bay (twice), Florida (twice), St. Louis, the New York Islanders, Washington and Edmonton on the schedule in February.
The Knights play eight of their final 10 games in February at home but can’t afford to dig a hole in the tightly bunched Pacific Division.
“We have to really use this break to our advantage because we have some huge hockey games coming up,” Pacioretty said. “Every night you check the standings and you can go from first to last (in the playoff race). That just goes to show how important these points are.”