Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer let out some frustration Tuesday.
Normally reluctant to criticize his players publicly, DeBoer was blunt when asked about the Knights’ goaltending in their 7-3 loss at the Winnipeg Jets. Laurent Brossoit and Logan Thompson gave up seven goals on 23 shots faced.
“Just didn’t get in front of enough pucks,” DeBoer said. “Pretty simple. I’m not a goaltending expert, but you’ve got to get in front of a couple.”
It’s not a good time for the reeling Knights to have issues in net. They’ve lost five straight in regulation for the first time in franchise history and slipped to 10th in the Western Conference standings by points percentage. Next up is Florida, the highest-scoring team in the NHL, on Thursday at T-Mobile Arena.
The Knights need better performances from their goaltenders — who allowed 18 goals in the final three games of the just-completed road trip — and fast. Otherwise, they could be watching the playoffs from home for the first time in franchise history.
“We’re in that spot where we need everything firing on all cylinders,” DeBoer said. “Our goaltender has to be good. Our special teams have to be good. Our five-on-five has to be good. And if one of those areas is off, we’re not going to win.”
The Knights rank 25th in team save percentage after goaltenders Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury shared the Jennings Trophy a season ago.
It’s been a much larger step back than the team was probably anticipating after trading Fleury to Chicago in the offseason.
Former Knights TV analyst Mike McKenna, who now writes for the website Daily Faceoff and appears on SiriusXM, doesn’t think all the blame for the drop-off should fall on the goaltenders. Injuries have forced the team to be aggressive on offense, which is risky.
“They keep forcing up ice so hard that they’re allowing these rushes to go back the other direction,” said McKenna, a former goaltender who appeared in 35 NHL games and played professionally for 14 seasons. “That wears on a goalie after a while.”
The results haven’t been pretty.
Lehner has been the Knights’ best goaltender, but injuries have limited him to 38 starts in 62 games. He’s on injured reserve with a lower-body injury after returning earlier this month from an upper-body injury.
Brossoit picked up the slack at times but has struggled lately. He’s 1-6-1 in his past eight starts with an .875 save percentage. Teams have found success against him by shooting high.
Thompson, on the roster with Lehner hurt, is 1-2 with an .890 save percentage and 3.56 goals-against average.
The state of the position could lead the Knights to acquire a goaltender before Monday’s trade deadline. Just don’t expect it to be the most recognizable name on the market.
Fleury, a pending unrestricted free agent, hasn’t had a successful season in Chicago with a 19-20-5 record, .909 save percentage and 2.90 goals-against average. He could still provide a boost for a playoff team, but general manager Kelly McCrimmon said in February the Knights aren’t interested.
“There is absolutely no credence to that rumor at all,” McCrimmon said. “I wouldn’t normally speak (officially) on such things, but there will be so much racket about this, it’s important to let people know that’s not going to happen.”
More realistic options could include the New York Rangers’ Alexandar Georgiev, Ottawa’s Anton Forsberg and Columbus’ Joonas Korpisalo.
The questions would include the asking price and how long a goalie would need to get up to speed. Lehner cost the Knights goaltender Malcolm Subban, defense prospect Slava Demin and a second-round pick when he was acquired as a pending unrestricted free agent in 2020. They also gave Toronto a fifth-round pick for help with salary retention.
Even if the Knights decide a similar move is worth it, there’s no guarantee any acquisition can acclimate quickly.
“It is very difficult to just be plug and play,” McKenna said. “The hard part is really the game itself. All new systems, new coaches, new personalities, new tendencies on the ice.”
The cost of inactivity could be high, too. The Knights began the season with Stanley Cup aspirations. Unless things stabilize in net, they might not even make the playoffs.
“This is when the good teams come to play,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “You’ve just got to find a way to win.”
Who: Golden Knights vs. Panthers
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: T-Mobile Arena
TV: AT&T SportsNet (Cox 313/1313, DirecTV 684, CenturyLink 760/1760, U-verse 757/1757)
Radio: KKGK (98.9 FM, 1340 AM)
Line: Panthers -128; total 6.5