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Graney: Knights still learning nuances of Cassidy’s defense

Updated September 30, 2022 - 10:05 pm

It is a proven system, and that always helps with the learning curve. Bruce Cassidy has the numbers to boast when it comes to his zone defense, meaning those with the Golden Knights now executing it can be confident in its potential long-term success.

The curve seemed to be accelerated through three preseason games.

Not so much for a fourth Friday night. Things leaked. A lot.

The Knights continued skating toward the regular season with a 7-3 loss against San Jose before 17,446 at T-Mobile Arena.

Zones have a way of keeping your feet moving and mind focused. Think of the mobility needed in basketball to continue sliding and contesting 3-point shots. It’s a little like that in hockey. Not much standing around and watching others dump pucks.

There are nuances to the zone — what areas of the ice are one’s responsibility and are all opposing skaters covered — still to be mastered.

Yeah. This could take some time.

Exposed house

“We’re all adjustable players who have played for different coaches,” said defenseman Brayden McNabb. “It’s nothing crazy. We’re still ironing out little chinks here and there.

“You still want to kill plays and jump on guys quick and get going the other way. It’s almost dumbed down a little bit. You’re playing a position and not just running around. You’re protecting the house. Once you learn it, you like it.”

It’s not the easiest way to defend. The house was exposed big-time Friday.

Doors and windows open all over the place.

But goalies must love it when things work.

Which should definitely aid the Knights in the long run.

Logan Thompson is the presumed regular-season starter with all of 20 NHL games to his credit. And as capable as he might be, the zone concept of not allowing as many Grade A chances should play well for his development.

He’ll just have to learn to look around his own defenders in front of the net as slap shots come flying toward him.

“You may not play a guy as tight as normally,” defenseman Alec Martinez said. “You may play a little off depending on the situation. But we’ve got the right personnel. We’re more than capable of handling it.”

Cassidy is the first-year coach of the Knights whose Boston teams of the past have been among the league leaders in goals against. They surrendered an average of just 2.66 last season and were tops in limiting scoring chances.

He desires a nasty defense. A committed one. Communication is paramount. You can’t make it work if you’re not constantly talking to your partner.

Hey, lots of 3-2 games aren’t the worst thing if you’re on the right side more often than not.

But those 7-3 losses are killer when things get real.

“We’re still doing a little more than we’re supposed to because of old habits.” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It happens. But overall, I’ve been surprised at how well we’ve adjusted. We even catch ourselves saying, ‘Oh, wrong spot.’ As we keep going here, we’ll just get better and better.”

Cleaning up things

Shea Theodore is a defenseman who believes he and his blueline mates might be a tad overlooked entering the season. That he and McNabb and Pietrangelo and Martinez and Zach Whitecloud and the like will be far better than what some might forecast.

Might even include Nic Hague.

The restricted free agent — who has played 142 games with the Knights the past three seasons — remains away from the team and unsigned.

If and when he returns, there will be much to learn. The nuances of it and all.

His teammates can fill him in. Still lots to clean up. Things leaked Friday night for the first time this preseason.

Adin Hill was in net and actually had to make saves.

“It wasn’t great tonight,” said captain Mark Stone. “We had some pretty bad letdowns right in front of our net. You’re going to have things like that happen, especially in the preseason.”

Might have been better had the Knights been contesting 3-pointers.

Said Cassidy: “We need to get the hell back to work.”

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and 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 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter

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