Knights top Ducks, despite defense leaking more than usual

Nate Schmidt is somewhat of a wordsmith around the Golden Knights locker room, the player media gravitate toward most when searching for a creative yarn to tell their stories or relevant quote.

Sometimes, the word part gets a little wacky.

“It speaks to our all-roundedness,” Schmidt said.

He laughed and offered another.

“To our versatility.”

It all comes out the same when you realize the Knights entered Tuesday night’s game against Anaheim tied with the Islanders and Maple Leafs for assists by defensemen, when you understand the way to winning in today’s NHL is the way Vegas players are coached to execute.

This is also true: Most games, the way they defend has worked.

On others, like Tuesday, it hasn’t.

But the magic of T-Mobile Arena found the Knights yet again, as a 2-0 lead was erased before the home team rallied to beat the Ducks 4-3 in a shootout before 17,608.

You knew it was going to be a weird evening when the guy who skates out as a Knight in pregame ceremonies to pull a sword from a rock fell on his backside. Then the arena folks got a little too excited by sounding the horn and lighting the lamp on a first-period shot by Alex Tuch that was actually saved and not a goal.

Not that best of looks for those on the entertainment side of things.

But as much as anything, the Knights are in the Pacific Division race a third of the way through the season because their defense has more than done its part in the opposing zone.

It’s the only team with five defensemen that has recorded at least seven assists, following the opinion that if you’re going to win in 2017, you better have four and five bodies on the attack and someone at the point efficient enough to alleviate pressure on forwards.

“Our job, first and foremost, is to take care of our end,” said defenseman Colin Miller. “But if we’re able to chip in offensively, that’s a huge weight off our forwards. It’s not easy to score night to night, so if the back end can contribute, that’s huge.”

It can get risky, as proven Tuesday, when the decision to push forward at the wrong time results in terrific chances on counters.

Or, as happened with Anaheim’s third goal, forward Erik Haula loses possession for the Knights and defensemen Deryk Engelland and Shea Theodore allow an opponent (Corey Perry) behind them, resulting in a one-on-one score.

Over the first two periods, the Ducks had four breakaways, three stopped by Knights goaltender Malcolm Subban, who was wonderful throughout, particularly in overtime and the shootout.

His guys just hung him out to dry way too often.

And yet Ryan McGill, an assistant coach who handles the Knights defense, said he would actually like to see his group be even more aggressive and take more shots.

He certainly gives everyone the opportunity.

‘Business of winning’

The Knights are in the NHL minority of carrying eight defensemen, and it’s not as if they are afraid to play any of them. Of the top six, the difference between ice time for the leading defenseman (Schmidt, 22:24) and the guy ranking sixth in minutes (Miller, 18:11) is just a little over four.

It’s the sort of time management that could pay dividends as a long season stretches into spring, as bodies begin to show wear and tear. If this inaugural campaign actually produces a playoff berth, finding ways not to overuse guys now might prove invaluable.

“I love it,” Schmidt said. “I came from a place with (Washington) that it was hard for the third group each night to get good minutes. If you weren’t on the power play or penalty kill, it was really hard. When you don’t play a lot, like only 10-11 minutes, it’s hard to get into a flow and get those juices flowing.

“I think one reason we have played so well is the fact those minutes are moved around a lot. We’re not having one (defenseman) with 30 and another with 10. Our way of doing things keeps everyone involved.”

Their way has worked most games this season.

It didn’t Tuesday, at least the part about rushing forward and being aggressive and taking chances, and yet there they were again, celebrating a home victory to a deliriously cheering crowd.

“We’re in the business of winning,” McGill said. “We have to develop these players so if something like injuries happen, they have confidence to step into the role, whether they’re ready or not. That part doesn’t matter. They have to believe they can get the job done.”

I’m not sure they did it all that well against the Ducks, but never forget:

Two points always trumps an off night.

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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