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Mental lapses aside, Knights reach Christmas in playoff position

On the eve of another Christmas, we know this about the Golden Knights:

As bad as they have been hit with injuries, as much as goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has played, as often as they have been on the road, the team finds itself in a playoff position within the Pacific Division.

That, and if you’re an opponent that reaches overtime against the Knights, know it will only take one shot to beat them.

Because someone is bound to get lost defensively or, as happened with defenseman Nate Schmidt on Sunday, make a bad change.

I’m sure all the Knights wanted for the holiday was consecutive home wins and four points, but should consider themselves fortunate to enter a three-day break with two, this following a 4-3 overtime defeat to the Kings before an announced Frosty-white crowd of 18,225 at T-Mobile Arena.

The Knights fell by the same score in overtime against Montreal on Saturday.

Three times now this season, the Knights have allowed the other guys to aim one shot at Fleury during the extra five minutes and skate off a winner.

William Karlsson was late getting back off a switch with Schmidt at New Jersey and the Devils prevailed.

Alex Tuch got turned around defending Paul Byron of Montreal and the Canadiens won Saturday.

Schmidt made a poor decision to change with Shea Theodore on Sunday, Tyler Toffoli got loose and Theodore couldn’t catch up before Toffoli beat Fleury.

“It’s a pretty simple game (in overtime) when it’s 3-on-3 and a lot of man-to-man,” said Knights forward Reilly Smith. “But it seems like we’ve been slipping with our assignments and it has cost us.”

Still, consider: The Knights sit third in the Pacific, a point behind San Jose and three behind Calgary.

But they also lead fourth-place Anaheim by just one.

It’s a bunched field, for sure.

When injuries found the Knights last season during a magical expansion run to the Stanley Cup Final, it always seemed to be limited to one fallen player at a time. It’s different now, as several players these last few months have found themselves out at once, never allowing the Knights to consistently offer the full lineup envisioned by general manager George McPhee and coach Gerard Gallant when offseason moves formed the current roster.

And yet in most ways, chemistry is still for science class. If you win a lot with different faces manning different lines, it means nothing. If you lose with certain players out, it’s thought of as an incredibly significant thing.

It’s not. You can develop chemistry within a game, within a period — heck — within a shift if it concludes with a goal.

Just stop having all these mental lapses, is all.

“I think we’re in a good position with a lot of home games coming up,” said forward Ryan Reaves. “Take care of home ice and we’ll be in a good spot. In the games we’re losing, one big mistake is costing us, or (Sunday), two or three mistakes. We need to limit those.”

Fleury plays on

The Knights are 11-3-3 at T-Mobile Arena and while they certainly don’t appear to own the dominant hold over Pacific foes as last season, a 7-3-2 divisional record is still best at this point among the eight teams.

A big part of whether the Knights will defend their division title is Fleury, who was his team’s best player the last two days even in defeat. He faced 47 shots against Montreal and yet still played back to back, his league-high 34th start on Sunday.

Fleury has played — read this part slowly — 240 minutes more than the next most worked goalie in Frederik Andersen of Toronto.

I figure Knights backup Malcolm Subban next sees the ice around Valentine’s Day, because it would just look silly wheeling Fleury out and having to prop him up like a scene from “Weekend at Bernie’s.”

Not that it would surprise anyone …

“Am I happy to get the two points the (last few days)?” asked Gallant. “Yes. But we have to play a lot better than that. It’s Christmastime and seemed like the last two games, we had no jump, no energy. Probably a lot of family in town, but you have to be focused to play well in the NHL every night and we didn’t look like we were focused.”

Christmas has arrived and the Knights are in a playoff position.

It’s still early, but a notable fact despite, well, everything.

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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