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Graney: No excuses for wounded Knights’ blowout loss to Leafs

Updated February 22, 2024 - 10:21 pm

It was Thursday morning when Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy spoke about how his team could best handle its rash of injuries.

He mentioned two areas that must lead the way: Defense and goaltending.

Uh-oh.

What a disaster this thing was. Toronto rolled over the Knights 7-3 before an announced crowd of 18,188 at T-Mobile Arena. A large contingent of Maple Leafs fans (as usual) was more than content to watch its team have its way most of the evening.

The seven goals allowed were a season high for the Knights. It just seemed like 10.

There was a lack of execution at times. A lack of effort at others. A lack of discipline at others.

No excuses. Veterans need to be better. This is the time.

“Obviously, it snowballed,” defenseman Alec Martinez said. “They scored a lot of goals. We just weren’t good enough. Got to give them credit, too. They capitalized on their chances. We didn’t. I liked the way the guys responded in the third but this isn’t the time of year for moral victories. We need points.”

It was 4-0 after one period in which the Maple Leafs had — count ’em — 22 shots. How bad was it early? Knights goalie Adin Hill was pulled in favor of Logan Thompson when the score climbed to 3-0 with 5:40 left before the first intermission.

You can count this as the Knights’ fourth straight home loss and Hill’s fourth straight overall. Maybe the road — which beckons with an upcoming five-game trip — will bring better results.

Things can’t look any worse than they did at times Thursday.

Which is what happens with so many key pieces missing.

Which is what happens when leaders don’t lead very well.

Injuries mounting

Center Nicolas Roy follows the NHL standings. He knows where Pacific Division teams reside, how many points separate them and which ones should feel comfortable about earning a playoff spot.

He understands how significant these last few months are for the Knights.

“It’s getting pretty tight,” Roy said. “We’re going to have to start winning some games, for sure.”

They just have to play a whole lot better, for sure.

Have to somehow find their game.

Have to, well, get healthy.

Roy and his teammates find themselves in a familiar position with significant injuries hitting the roster again. Mark Stone is the latest to join the wounded. The captain is out week-to-week with an upper-body injury.

Jack Eichel continues to be out. So does William Carrier. So does Pavel Dorofeyev. The Knights also played Thursday without Brett Howden.

Nothing new. The key, however, is not necessarily where the Knights might find themselves when playoff seeds are decided. The key is being healthy when the tournament begins. You saw what happened last year when they were. You saw them lift a Stanley Cup.

“Obviously, the healthier we are, it helps,” Roy said. “We have a lot of confidence in the group when we’re really healthy and have our full lineup out there. Right now, we have to find ways to win with some of our top guys out.”

This isn’t the way.

Here’s Cassidy’s hope with so many leading names on the sidelines: That middle-ground players step forward and take their games to another level. That they find consistency. Names like Michael Amadio and Paul Cotter.

“It’s a group that needs to take more responsibility and hold themselves to a high standard,” Cassidy said. “It’s about taking the next step in their careers, to be the guy who shows up every night. It’s a test and challenge for them and hopefully they’re up for it.”

I’m not sure who was up for much of anything Thursday. Amadio did score a goal. So did William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault.

Start packing

This thing was over fast. Cassidy said earlier he hoped to pack a victory and hit the road on a positive note.

Nothing to pack from this one. Nothing to claim as a positive.

Nothing much to speak of.

“You have young guys but that means the rest of us who have been around for a long time need to be better,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “We’ve got to rely on us to be better and lead by example. Those guys will follow.”

No excuses.

Ed Graney, a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing, can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on X.

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