It wasn’t long ago that the Golden Knights’ penalty kill was at the peak of its powers, striking fear in opposing power plays.
The unit produced two short-handed goals in a loss against Anaheim on Dec. 1 and led the NHL in that category after the first 22 games.
But the Knights failed to come up with penalty kills at key times the past two games and were fortunate it didn’t cost them more than two points in the standings.
They can’t afford a similar letdown Sunday when Western Conference-leading Minnesota visits T-Mobile Arena for the final time this season.
“Our penalty kill foundation has been really good for a long time,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “It’s never perfect. But I’m not panicking about it. We’re just going through a stretch where everything that can go wrong is going wrong. I’m real confident we’re going to work our way out of it.”
The Knights have allowed goals five of their past six times short-handed and plummeted to 22nd in the league at 78.4 percent. That has undone the excellent work the Knights have done at five-on-five recently.
Dallas’ power play ranks in the top five of the league and scored on all three shots Wednesday before the Knights rallied for a victory. Philadelphia, which was 3-for-34 on the road with the power play, converted twice in the third period Friday.
Two of Dallas’ power-play goals came shortly after the Knights lost a defensive-zone faceoff and were unable to apply pressure on the point man.
They also were victimized by a bad bounce off the end boards leading to James van Riemsdyk’s goal that put the Flyers ahead 4-2.
But the goaltending also has been responsible at times, according to DeBoer. He pointed to Sean Couturier’s go-ahead goal early in the third period for Philadelphia on Friday against Laurent Brossoit.
Robin Lehner also was beaten from distance by Dallas’ Jason Robertson on Wednesday, though he appeared to be screened at the last moment.
“When you individually look at those goals against, you’re going to go through points of a season where you’ve got seeing-eye pucks or bounces off a backboard and takes a fortunate bounce. And some of them you just want back,” DeBoer said. “The first one in the third period (Friday), that for me is on our goalie. That’s a clear, unscreened one-timer that’s along the ice in the middle of the net. There’s different responsibilities everywhere.”
The Knights didn’t have Chandler Stephenson, one of their top penalty-killing forwards, against Philadelphia for personal reasons, and DeBoer said he is expected to be available against Minnesota.
The Wild ranked 23rd in the league entering Saturday’s game at Los Angeles.
“We have to do a better job on faceoffs, making sure if we’re losing, we have to at least scramble pucks and make sure they’re not getting quick strikes on us,” winger Reilly Smith said. “But generally, we just have to make more plays. It seems like when one person fumbles a puck or whatever it is, misses an assignment, we don’t have anyone bail them out. We just have to work better as a four- or five-man unit.”
Who: Golden Knights vs. Wild
When: 6 p.m. Sunday
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: Knights -130; total 5½