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Golden Knights forwards lacking confidence, scoring touch

Updated September 13, 2020 - 8:30 am

Max Pacioretty was one of three players in the NHL to register more than 300 shots on goal this season and rarely passes up an opportunity to test a goaltender.

When the Golden Knights left wing gets the puck in a prime scoring position and looks to pass like he did late in the first period Saturday, something isn’t right.

The Knights’ forwards continued to lack confidence against Dallas Stars goaltender Anton Khudobin and were shut down in a 2-1 loss in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final in Edmonton, Alberta.

“I thought we created some really good looks and we hit two or three posts,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “Obviously with one goal, we’ve got to find other ways to make it tougher on him, but the effort’s there to do that. We had enough looks to extend the lead at different points. Just got to stick with it.”

Pacioretty, who led the Knights with 32 goals during the regular season, took a cross-ice pass from defenseman Alec Martinez on a power play with 1:53 left in the first period and appeared to have room to shoot as Khudobin slid to his right.

Instead, Pacioretty opted to try to hit Paul Stastny with a back-door feed that would have stranded Khudobin.

But Stars defenseman Miro Heiskanen had the shaft of his stick flat on the ice to cut off the passing lane and deflected the puck behind the net.

That wasn’t the only opportunity the Knights passed up trying to do too much with the puck.

During a second-period penalty kill, Reilly Smith had a two-on-one with William Karlsson but couldn’t find a pass across. Smith tried to toe-drag the puck around Stars defenseman John Klingberg and coughed it up.

Khudobin finished with 32 saves, but the Knights also lacked a finishing touch with 19 shots that missed the net.

Smith and Jonathan Marchessault have each gone 10 games without a goal; Pacioretty hasn’t scored in his past seven games.

The Knights have 10 goals in their past seven games, which includes two into an empty net in Game 7 against Vancouver.

“All we need is to finish,” DeBoer said. “I think the effort’s there. I think we’re creating a lot of really good looks.”

Here are three more takeaways from the loss:

1. Made of Stone

Knights forward Mark Stone made a lonely stroll through the hall to the bench after the start of the third period.

Hobbled and ineffective, Stone gutted out 8:16 of ice time in the third, but was unable to rescue the Knights.

“That time of year, but he’s a special character guy and you expect that out of him,” DeBoer said. “It’s that time of year. You get this deep, everybody’s playing through something.”

Stone appeared to be injured in the second period when he stuck out his right foot to block a shot by Dallas’ Joe Pavelski.

Stone didn’t play the final 4:50 of the second period and emerged from the locker room after the faceoff to start the final period. He was noticeably wincing in pain throughout.

DeBoer did not have an update on Stone’s status after the game, but the Knights’ hopes of coming back from a 3-1 series deficit are diminished considerably without their second-leading scorer.

2. Schmidt happens

It’s been a tough two-game stretch for defenseman Nate Schmidt.

On the winning goal in Game 3, Schmidt was caught too far up the ice and unable to intercept an outlet pass that started the scoring play. He made an egregious turnover in his own zone during the second period Saturday, leading to the tying goal.

Schmidt was pressured by Stars forward Andrew Cogliano, and his pass was deflected. Pavelski recovered the loose puck, and Schmidt dived to try to deflect his shot, but instead the knuckleball fluttered over the shoulder of Knights goalie Robin Lehner.

The Knights had been outshooting Dallas 22-6 to that point, but the Stars recorded seven of the final nine shots in the period and protected the lead in the third.

“Their best player, Joe Pavelski, takes a backhand, rolls up the shaft of our stick and over our goalie’s shoulder,” DeBoer said. “We haven’t gotten any of those, and we’ve got to stick with it till we do.”

3. Public enemy

Alex Tuch hasn’t made many friends in Texas in this series.

The Stars already were upset with the Knights forward for his slewfoot on Tyler Seguin during a Game 3 scrum and took exception to a play early in the second period of Game 4.

Tuch skated behind the net as the Knights tried to break out of their zone and collided with an unsuspecting Corey Perry, who was knocked flat and appeared to be briefly unconscious.

Perry skated one more shift and was pulled off the ice by a concussion spotter before he returned later in the second period.

Tuch was not penalized for interference and will probably hear boos the next time he visits American Airlines Center.

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.