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Golden Knights buy into DeBoer tweaks, win third straight

Updated February 17, 2020 - 9:12 pm

Tweak: to improve a mechanism or system by making fine adjustments.

Fine is the operative word in terms of the Golden Knights under head coach Pete DeBoer, he having implemented small but subtle changes that seem to have taken hold.

It’s not a coincidence such commitment has produced some of the best wins of a regular season sprinting to its conclusion.

Buying in can create success in the face of adversity.

The homestand many believe could go a long way in determining where the Knights find themselves come playoff time continued with another win Monday, Vegas holding off the Capitals 3-2 before a President’s Day matinee gathering of 18,399 at T-Mobile Arena.

Three games, three wins, three different ways of beating St. Louis, the Islanders and Washington by varying scores of 6-5 in overtime, 1-0 and 3-2.

All three opponents sit in playoff positions, with the Blues and Capitals leading their respective divisions.

Another team tied in points (70) for first is the one that played its ninth game since the All-Star break, the Knights now atop the Pacific Division with Edmonton.

DeBoer replaced the fired Gerard Gallant on Jan. 15 and it was assumed there would be an adjustment period, usually not a truth teams desire so advanced in a season.

But it happened and the Knights were forced to deal with it.

“We know what we’re doing more 5-on-5 now,” said Knights forward Max Pacioretty, who scored his team-leading 27th goal Monday. “We’ve all played in different systems before, so they were just slight tweaks. We had some breakdowns with it at first from a lack of communication, but we definitely have the hang of it now.”

The penalty kill. The breakout. Playing faster, not in the sense of Princeton basketball becoming Loyola Marymount of the late 1980s overnight, but more determined to push pace. Defensemen feeling more at liberty to come off the blue line and attack. DeBoer changing the lineup, no matter who it might affect.

Those have all been obvious tweaks, but perhaps this one is as significant: He doesn’t appear to be a nutjob.

Turk delivery?

Even at this level, the voice that players hear most in the room can, as much as anything, determine what type of team you have. DeBoer, at least publicly, seems far more like Gallant than not.

His message might be different, but the delivery appears similar.

It’s impossible to state how important such a seemingly minor thing can be, especially for a group of players who lost an extremely popular coach in midseason.

“You don’t have the record they have and done the things they did under the adversity that has happened around here without having character in the room,” DeBoer said. “I didn’t realize how good the leadership and character was in that room. They’re all in. It’s a good team. There is no maintenance, no egos. That’s rare to have a whole team of guys like that. It gives you a chance.”

That’s like almost impossible to have.

It’s also go time, Vegas staring at 21 games remaining. Edmonton has two in hand, while just two points separate the top five teams in the Pacific.

Things are more a logjam than the Cajon Pass on a Friday evening.

So even if the Knights haven’t completely grasped all that DeBoer wants, it’s not as though there is time to adjust. But the team that has won three straight is better this week than last and much better than when he first arrived.

It’s crazy what happens when a sense of normalcy returns.

“For sure, we have no choice but to execute and have that attention to detail,” DeBoer said. “It’s not September or October, where you can afford to drop points. We’re all very aware where we are in the standings and no one around us is losing.

“I’ve said this before — I don’t think it’s a bad thing for a team to go through some adversity during the year. It’s more important you come out the other side of it and are playing well going down the stretch. I think that’s where we’re heading.”

Tweak: a system the Knights have bought into and, for it, are suddenly reaping the benefits.

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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