If the Golden Knights could pinpoint one reason for all their recent struggles, it might be easier to fix.
Coach Gerard Gallant could use his trusty “get more bodies to the blue paint” line and it would all be solved.
Rather, it’s been a range of issues in the third period leading the Knights to lose three straight and drop points in five of their past six games.
“Teams are ready for us, so we better start being ready, too,” left wing Jonathan Marchessault said.
The Knights finished the road trip with three of a possible eight points, and they had to once again lean on goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury for the lone win in Columbus.
If there is a common thread in the losses, it’s the Knights’ propensity for penalties in the third period, which has opened the door to the opposition. In addition to Winnipeg’s and Toronto’s comebacks being aided by power-play goals, Montreal scored one of its late goals two seconds after a Nate Schmidt penalty expired.
But bad bounces, bad calls, bad puck management and bad defending have all contributed to the Knights’ 1-2-3 record in their past six.
“We’ve got to solve that killer mentality where no matter what happens, what’s going on in the game … you still go out there with that same mindset we’re going to worry about our own end and then when we go on the offense we’re jumping in the play and trying to create,” left wing Max Pacioretty said.
The Knights entered Monday fourth in the Pacific Division and play five of their next six at home starting Wednesday against Chicago. Their 9-7-3 record means they’ve lost more games than they’ve won.
Despite going 8-1-1 when leading after two periods, the Knights have been outscored 16-15 in the third period. They have one third-period goal in their past five games.
And their 3-5 record in one-goal games also includes two shootout victories.
A lot of what ails the Knights could be solved with a few more goals.
They rank 19th in the league at 2.84 goals per game, which has contributed to a minus-2 goal differential. Leading scorer Mark Stone has gone four straight games without a point, and linemate Paul Stastny is on a six-game pointless streak.
“I think it comes down to each individual having the confidence that they can change the game any time they go out there, whether we just give up a goal or we just score a goal,” Pacioretty said. “We’ve got to have that same mentality of always attacking and trying to play on the offense.”
The latest example of those third-period woes came Sunday at Detroit when the Knights allowed the league’s last-place team to score twice in the final 9:03 and lost 3-2 on Anthony Mantha’s goal with 30.9 seconds remaining.
The Knights had the better of the play in the first portion of the period, and Paul Stastny nearly made it 3-1 on a power play midway through.
But after Detroit defenseman Madison Bowey flinged a shot while falling to the ice past Malcolm Subban for the tying goal, the Knights played the equivalent of a prevent defense and sat back hoping for overtime.
They kept a winger high in the offensive zone near the blue line on the forecheck and hardly tested Red Wings goaltender Jonathan Bernier.
It appeared the tactic would ensure at least one point, and possibly two in overtime, until Reilly Smith lost a puck battle in the corner in the final 40 seconds and the Knights got caught for the first time with all three forwards below the faceoff dots on the forecheck.
Defenseman Brayden McNabb then made an ill-advised gamble in the neutral zone trying to break up a rink-wide pass and allowed Mantha to get behind him for the winner.
“There’s no reason for us to make mistakes,” said Gallant, who added the Red Wings “had three chances before that. We caused the chances ourselves.”
The Knights played with fire Thursday by giving the Maple Leafs’ potent power play two opportunities in the third period — and six total — and were eventually grilled by Auston Matthews’ tying goal at 8:14.
John Tavares then won it for Toronto in overtime after William Karlsson committed a defensive-zone turnover.
In the 4-3 loss to Winnipeg on Nov. 2, the Knights allowed a power-play goal midway through the third period before Mark Scheifele scored the tying goal with 6:43 remaining when the linesmen waved off an icing to the Knights’ dismay.
The Knights fell in overtime to Montreal on Oct. 31 in part to two fluky third-period goals in the final 6:27. Tomas Tatar scored when the puck bounced off his body, and Brendan Gallagher notched the tying goal after the puck hit his skate and scooted past Fleury.