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December 14, 2017

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Defensemen fuel offense for Golden Knights in loss to Colorado

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John Locher / AP

Vegas Golden Knights’ Cody Eakin, left, skates with the puck around Colorado Avalanche’s Nikita Zadorov during the first period of an NHL preseason hockey game Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017, in Las Vegas.

Updated Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017 | 11:10 p.m.

The Golden Knights scored two goals in Thursday night’s 4-2 preseason loss to the Colorado Avalanche, both by defensemen.

In the second period, Colin Miller took a gorgeous pass from Vadim Shipachyov and buried it in the back of the net. Then in the third period youngster Shea Theodore scored with a wrist shot from the blue line that found its way past Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov.

“We want our defensemen involved in our offense and obviously tonight them getting those goals was key for our club,” coach Gerard Gallant said.

The Golden Knights have a handful of defensemen who can score, including veterans Nate Schmidt and Jason Garrison, but the positive effect they have on the offensive zone also comes with a negative effect on the other end of the ice.

Oftentimes, offensive-minded defenseman can jump too far into the offensive zone, leaving room behind them that leads to odd-man rushes for the opponent.

That happened multiple times Thursday, and the Avalanche capitalized multiple times.

“I feel like maybe at times we got a little antsy trying to be that fourth guy when we didn’t have full control of the puck,” Theodore said. “We got caught a couple times, but that’s just a minor detail that we can clean up.”

Colorado’s third goal of the game came on a 2-on-1 rush where Nathan MacKinnon found Mikko Rantanen with a cross-ice pass. Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury couldn’t get over in time and Rantanen put the puck into the empty net.

“You could see there were definitely a couple breakdowns tonight and they capitalized on it,” Miller said. “They had their odd man rushes and it was a bad play by me in the first.”

Vegas outshot Colorado 36-22 but the Avalanche had better chances with their fewer shots due to a lack of structure by Golden Knights’ defensemen.

“You can be an offensive-minded defenseman but you still have to play defense first,” Gallant said. “We had a couple of miscues tonight, one with a slow line change where they got the break away goal.”

But while the defensive mistakes must be cleaned up, the Golden Knights need their defensemen to produce on offense. Without a superstar to score goals, Vegas will desperately need production from its blue-liners.

The lack of pure goal scorers on the team could be magnified on the power play, which went 0-for-7 Thursday night and is zero for its last 15 chances in the preseason.

“I was really happy when (the defensemen) started shooting the puck because the first four or five power plays we weren’t shooting the puck from the point and eventually we started doing it,” Gallant said. “When you get the puck to the net it can slip through.”

Theodore may be the best scorer the Golden Knights have on defense, but the 22-year-old is at risk of being left off the opening day roster. Because he doesn’t have to pass through waivers, he could end up in the American Hockey League with the Chicago Wolves, but he’s certainly making his case to start the season in Vegas.

“I feel like so far I’ve played some pretty good hockey,” Theodore said. “I’m here to force (McPhee’s) hand to not send me down to Chicago, but we just have to be better as a group.”

As far as Gallant is concerned, Theodore isn’t even on the bubble.

“I don’t know who had him on the bubble but I think he played real well and he’s a good player,” Gallant said. “Shea has played real well. He’s a young player and he’s a talented player and he has to get better every day.”

Next up for the Golden Knights is their final preseason game. They host the San Jose Sharks at T-Mobile Arena Sunday at 5 p.m.

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