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Golden Knights resemble expansion team in loss at Boston

Updated November 2, 2017 - 10:35 pm

BOSTON — It took 12 games, and a historic beginning, and playing more goalies in less than a month than most teams use in years, but the Golden Knights on Thursday night finally resembled that famous Dennis Green quote.

They are what we thought they were — at least for 60 minutes.

Difference is, they didn’t let Boston off the hook.

They just got beat, is all.

The losing streak has reached three for the Knights, who fell to the Bruins 2-1 before 17,565 at TD Garden, and yet more than at any other time this season appeared to be the sort of side most had forecast from the season’s outset.

Which is to say one that, when combining strong goalkeeping and attentive defensive play, would compete in low-scoring games that could fall either way in the waning minutes.

As needed and memorable and exhilarating and impressive as an 8-1 start was for the Knights and a mourning Las Vegas in the wake of the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest festival, it absolutely concealed the expansion side of the ledger.

It pushed reality out of the picture for a week or so.

Folks began to forget that part.

This six-game trip should return it front and center.

The fact that three goalies are on injured reserve and Maxime Lagace as a fourth option has started two straight games — he played by far his best hockey Thursday — makes things difficult enough.

But when you also play as shoddy defensively as the Knights did to open this trip with losses against the Islanders (6-3) and Rangers (6-4), success is an impossible goal to achieve.

They were much better on that end Thursday.

The only difference between what most thought the Knights would look like at their best this season and this game was the guy under the goalie mask.

It wasn’t Marc-Andre Fleury, still out with a concussion, but in stopping 26 of 28 shots, Lagace more than held his own in the large shadow cast by the absent face of the franchise.

No one knows when Fleury might return — I’m not sure the CIA has a security clearance level high enough to match an NHL team’s classified approach when it comes to updating the status of injured players — but the Knights can win games with the performance Lagace offered Thursday.

Ditto when those in front of him communicate as they did and don’t fall asleep.

“We were better in the defensive zone, not giving up point-blank shots like the two previous games,” said center Cody Eakin, who scored the team’s goal. “Pretty solid game. Spent more time in their zone. On the road, a few bounces can change things, and we were on the wrong side of them.

“Things have been a little chaotic, but we were better tonight in front of (Lagace). We have to build off that. Take the good with the bad and not dwell on it. Just get to the next one.”

Something to build on as the Knights head into Canada for the first time this season, now staring at games against Ottawa (Saturday), Toronto (Monday) and Montreal (Tuesday): They had been, before Thursday, pretty close to awful in the third period of games, having been outscored by eight goals and offering a minus-51 on shots differential.

But not for a fortunate Boston bounce at 9:53 of the third period that allowed Sean Kuraly to score the winning goal, the Knights probably would have departed here with at least a point, if not two and a win.

It really came down to this: The bounce Boston received in the crease resulted in a goal.

The one Tomas Nosek got for the Knights didn’t.

That close of a game.

Much like what we assumed would be a consistent effort from the Knights, only with Fleury on the ice.

“I thought the guys really battled against a big, strong Boston team,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “Real evenly played hockey game. Well-officiated game. We just fell a little short. We obviously didn’t have as much offense as we have had — each team could have had three or four goals — but that was because of good goaltending. (Lagace) was really strong and looked confident.

“We would have loved to get a point or two out of it, but it’s over. We just have to go back and work hard and get better.”

When at its best, this is how most games of an expansion team usually go.

Tight, low scoring, the Knights struggling to score on the power play (0-for-5 Thursday), the outcome still in doubt in the final minutes.

For the first time all season, they are what we thought they were.

It won’t be the last time, either.

It’s more reality than 8-1.

The key is to be the guys with 2 instead of 1 when that final horn sounds.

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 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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