It wasn’t quite sleepwalking, but the effort by the Vegas Golden Knights Thursday that resulted in a 3-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes in front of 16,883 at T-Mobile Arena wasn’t that far off. Not a lot of energy and it was a game that Vegas certainly deserved to lose.
The Golden Knights elected to rest defenseman Alec Martinez and called up Peter DiLiberatore from Henderson to give him some NHL ice time. They also elected to play Gage Quinney with Peyton Krebs and Keegan Kolesar. That line started out well but as the game went on, Krebs was moved up to skate with Nolan Patrick and Evgenii Dadonov and looked very much like he belonged in the NHL.
The Knights had their top two lines intact so they had no excuse for not taking it to the visitors. They also had Brayden McNabb back on the blue line and Robin Lehner in goal. So there was a pretty fair amount of representation for what the lineup will look like come Tuesday when the Golden Knights open the season against the expansion Seattle Kraken.
“It was a typical preseason game, a lot of good, bad and ugly,” Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer said.
Center William Karlsson, who scored the lone Vegas goal on a second-period power play said: “We could’ve been better today. They outfought us and outworked us. We’ve got things to work on.”
There’s one more dress rehearsal. That comes Saturday in San Jose against the Sharks. The experimenting is just about done, save for Krebs perhaps, who didn’t play all that badly despite being shuttled between lines. The guess is he’s on the plane to the Bay Area Saturday for one last look, especially with William Carrier, Nicolas Roy and Brett Howden still unavailable.
“I’d like to keep looking at Peyton,” DeBoer said. “We moved him up against Colorado and he played well and we did that again tonight and I thought he responded well. He’s a really good hockey player.”
Three takeaways from Thursday:
1. Tough night for young guys: Quinney and DiLiberatore had a great opportunity to make a positive impression and neither managed to do so. Even playing with Alex Pietrangelo didn’t help DiLiberatore stand out.
“It’s a big ask,” DeBoer said of the spot DiLiberatore was put in on short notice. “To go up against Arizona’s lineup that has a lot of veterans, big, heavy men, that’s not easy. But I thought he handled it well and playing with Petro (Pietrangelo) helped. We wanted to give him a chance to succeed.”
It wasn’t a great night for the veterans either. Mark Stone in particular struggled in what was his second game of the preseason. He turned it over several times, didn’t seem to have his timing and the Captain will likely have a healthy case of amnesia from this one.
2. Little help for Lehner: Robin Lehner was O.K. in net but the bigger issue was the lack of defensive zone coverage by his teammates. The Coyotes were able to get some odd-man rushes, some opportunistic plays on two of their three goals and that needs to tighten up.
Yes, the Knights were without Martinez and Shea Theodore, who is still on the mend with a lower body injury. But the others have played in front of Lehner with the exception of DiLiberatore so no excuses there.
“I was comfortable out there,” Lehner said in his first full game of the preseason. “No problems there.”
3. System a work in progress: The Golden Knights are trying to use a slightly different forecheck system in the hopes of creating more turnovers to lead to more scoring opportunities. DeBoer said it’s more of a neutral zone thing than an offensive zone change.
The Coyotes had few issues getting the puck out of their end. And better coverage in the neutral zone by the Knights is going to have to improve.
“I think we’re still learning and getting comfortable with it,” center Chandler Stephenson said. “I don’t think it’ll be a big issue going forward. We’ll be O.K.”