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Golden Knights vs Maple Leafs

Steve Marcus

Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) scores against Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Logan Thompson (36) during the third period of an NHL hockey game at T-Mobile Arena Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (7) is at right.

Bruce Cassidy took three questions during Thursday’s postgame press conference. It totaled 3 minutes, 12 seconds.

The final question was how challenging is it playing four call-ups from AHL Henderson who entered the night with 14 games of NHL experience.

Before the question was even finished, Cassidy interrupted.

“Don’t make excuses,” the Golden Knights’ coach said.

The reasoning behind it was defenseman Alex Pietrangelo was asked something along those similar lines. With the Golden Knights without the services of Mark Stone and Jack Eichel simultaneously, they have to reach into the Silver Knights’ collection of players to fill in those gaps.

That responsibility falls on to the rest of the leadership group — particularly the veterans — to lead the way.

“It shouldn’t matter. These guys have an opportunity,” Pietrangelo said of Mason Morelli, Byron Froese, Sheldon Rempal and Brendan Brisson. “You have young guys, but that means the rest of us who have been around for a long time need to be better.”

The Golden Knights lost their fourth straight home game in a 7-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The game was over by the first period with the Maple Leafs scoring four times in the opening frame.

It was an optimal test for the Golden Knights playing their first game without Stone after he was labeled week to week with an upper-body injury. They have to find ways to replicate not only Stone’s team-best 53 points (17 goals, 36 assists) but his defensive ability and the emotion he brings as the captain.

That’s where the likes of the 34-year-old Pietrangelo, a former captain in St. Louis, comes into play; along with 36-year-old Alec Martinez, 33-year-old Brayden McNabb, or 33-year-old Jonathan Marchessault.

William Karlsson and Marchessault were the only ones Thursday to have a plus/minus of zero or better. Every other player was minus-1 or worse.

Pietrangelo said the leadership group needs to step up. Cassidy agreed.

“It’s up to the guys that have been here, done it, that have the resume to lead this team,” Cassidy said. “We talked about our leadership group over and over again about how good they are. Well, time to be good. Right now.”

Cassidy stressed defense and goaltending was going to be paramount, more than it already was, without Stone. He called on the players in the middle areas of the lineup — Paul Cotter and Michael Amadio from the forward group, and the third defense pairing Nic Hague and Zach Whitecloud — to take that next leap.

The Golden Knights got off to a good start, but when Toronto defenseman Jake McCabe’s shot deflected off Martinez’s leg at 10:00 of the first period, things started to unravel.

The Maple Leafs scored four times in 6 minutes, 11 seconds for a 4-0 lead in the first.

“We could use that middle wave of guys to push us here, but your best players need to be the leaders of the team, right now especially,” Cassidy said.

The Golden Knights begin a five-game road trip Saturday against the Ottawa Senators (4 p.m., Vegas 34) in what will be a crucial stretch heading into March.

Because of this slide of four straight home losses, the Golden Knights failed to gain ground on the first-place Vancouver Canucks, who have lost four in a row. The Edmonton Oilers, whose 16-game winning streak was snapped by Vegas on Feb. 6, is two points behind the Golden Knights for second place with four games in hand.

The Los Angeles Kings, after firing coach Todd McLellan on Feb. 2, have earned points in seven of their last 10 games and are four points behind the Golden Knights with two games in hand.

With time ticking down on the season, it’s all hands on deck.

“There’s not a lot of margin for error as much as there was before,” Cassidy said. “We’ve got to take care of business.”

Danny Webster can be reached at 702-259-8814 or [email protected]. Follow Danny on X at

Article written by #LasVegasSun