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Fifth straight home loss exposes what Golden Knights aren’t

Updated February 14, 2019 - 11:27 pm

It’s one of the standard videos played during a Golden Knights game, a shot of Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz” closing her eyes and repeating, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place …”

Well, it used to be.

Maybe it’s time to tell the young lady from Kansas to take a night off from clicking those red shoes.

This loss wasn’t like Tuesday, wasn’t a case of the Knights falling to an inferior side like Arizona, wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.

What was it?

As good an example as you will find of what the Knights are and, more importantly, lack.

They have now dropped a franchise-record five straight at home, the latest a 6-3 final to the Maple Leafs before an announced gathering of 18,214, a score defined by a Toronto side that in no way is stressed by anything the Knights offer.

Here’s why: The Knights don’t feature a roster of stars. They’re not rolling out lines filled with the league’s best players. They have two second lines, a third severely lacking much beyond Cody Eakin and a fourth that is serviceable.

Think about it: Alex Tuch — who has now gone seven straight games without registering a point — shares the scoring lead on the Knights with Jonathan Marchessault with 40.

That ranks 87th in the league.

So when a game like this arrives and a team like Toronto can do things such as offer a second power play unit that might be the best for most teams, when a line of Zach Hyman and John Tavares and Mitch Marner is replaced with one of Patrick Marleau and Auston Matthews and Kasperi Kapanen, when we haven’t even mentioned names like Andreas Johnsson and William Nylander, you get the idea about ridiculous skill.

Toronto is fast. Its talent makes it even faster.

It can, as much as anyone, expose weaknesses in the Knights, especially how slow they are at times defensively. It did so Thursday.

Toronto also has Frederik Andersen in goal.

It’s loaded.

It means the Knights have to be smarter, tougher, better at the little things to overcome an obvious mismatch in ability. It means they have to stay out of the box, which they failed miserably at in taking six penalties, two of which Toronto scored on.

“We played against a real good team,” said Knights coach Gerard Gallant. “I agreed with three of the (penalties) and the other three I don’t. It’s not a good recipe to win a hockey game when you give up six power plays. You’re playing with fire.

“They’re talented and have one of the best players in the world (in Matthews, two goals and an assist) and he was the difference tonight.”

He certainly kicked the tail out of the Knights’ top line.

Nashville up next

This wasn’t Tuesday against Arizona in the third period. The Knights didn’t give anything away. Toronto took it once things were 3-3. It’s just better, is all.

I’m not a fan of change for the sake of change. It rarely creates the advantage one seeks. But once the Knights return injured defenseman Nick Holden to the lineup, it would be smart to keep Jon Merrill on the ice — he’s at least creating some offense — and sit veteran Deryk Engelland.

He’s 36 and it’s showing, and it really shows against a team like Toronto.

He’s not the only issue. There are several. Marc-Andre Fleury isn’t great right now. The first line needs to be much better. Ditto the third, if it even has the ability to be so.

It wasn’t a result that hurt the Knights all that much in the Pacific Division, given first-place San Jose lost and second-place Calgary earned just a point in a shootout defeat.

But the schedule says just 23 regular-season games remain, meaning each one dropped at home is magnified a tad more.

Five straight, and counting.

“We were so good on home ice last year,” said Knights forward Ryan Reaves. “You have to take care of home ice. You have to understand what you’re doing wrong and then correct it. I know it’s not the playoffs, but it’s a playoff push. It’s the grind right now and we have to start grinding on teams. Enough said. We’re in a playoff push.”

That push Reaves talks of continues against visiting Nashville on Saturday night.

Someone tell Dorothy to stay home.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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