Updated November 19, 2023 - 8:08 pm
For the first time this season, the Golden Knights had their preferred lineup of 18 skaters when they met Pittsburgh on Sunday.
It didn’t help them solve Penguins goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic.
The Knights were blanked for the second time on the road trip, falling 3-0 at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.
Nedeljkovic, who was activated off injured reserve Sunday after missing the past 10 games with a lower-body injury, finished with 38 saves for his eighth career shutout and first since April 24, 2022, with Detroit.
“Tonight, it’s on our offense,” Knights coach Bruce Cassidy said.
Defenseman Nic Hague returned after missing the past eight games with a lower-body injury, allowing the Knights to ice their top six defensemen and top 12 forwards for the first time in 19 games.
But the Knights, who also were shut out by journeyman Charlie Lindgren in Washington on Tuesday, fell to 1-2-1 on their road trip that concludes Wednesday at Dallas.
They were blanked twice all of last season en route to winning the Stanley Cup.
Penguins defenseman Ryan Graves scored following a goal-mouth scramble in the first period, and forward Noel Acciari converted in the second after a turnover by the Knights. Evgeni Malkin added an empty-net goal with 1:18 remaining.
“A couple of weird bounces the other way, they get a couple fortunate goals,” center Jack Eichel said. “You’re not going to get bounces 82 games a year. We’ve just got to bear down on our opportunities when we have them.”
Eichel hit the crossbar midway through the second period on the Knights’ best scoring chance, and William Karlsson was stuffed by Nedeljkovic on his drive to the net in the third period.
Chandler Stephenson had three opportunities in the third, including a point-blank chance off the rush in the opening six minutes of the period, but was turned away each time.
The Knights also failed to convert on a late power play after the Penguins were penalized for too many men on the ice with 4:05 remaining. Cassidy opted against pulling goaltender Adin Hill for a six-on-four advantage, possibly out of respect for Nedeljkovic’s ability to shoot at an empty net.
The 27-year-old scored his second career goal Friday during a conditioning stint in the American Hockey League.
“Their goalie played great, had a lot of great saves. We just didn’t have an answer for it,” Stephenson said. “They’re a good team over there. They have a lot of experience, and you get those bounces when you have that experience.”
Here are three takeaways from the loss:
1. Digging a hole
The Knights have held a lead for 1:56 during this road trip and fallen behind 2-0 in all four games. They were playing catch-up once again Sunday.
Unlike the past two games on the road trip when the Knights overcame two-goal deficits to earn at least a point, they were unable to rally against the Penguins.
The Knights fell to 5-3-1 when the opponent scores first.
“It’s never easy to chase a game,” Eichel said. “I think we had our chances. But it’s frustrating. We’ve obviously been shut out twice here on the road, so we’ve got to find a way to score goals.”
2. Mix it up
Cassidy tried to find a spark in the third period, juggling three of his forward lines and two defense pairs to no avail.
As he has done previously, Cassidy bumped Karlsson to the wing with Stephenson and Mark Stone. Karlsson’s versatility allows Cassidy to stack the top-six forwards with his leading scorers while trying to come back from a deficit.
The line of Brett Howden skating between Michael Amadio and Ivan Barbashev saw its ice time reduced, while the fourth line of Nicolas Roy centering William Carrier and Keegan Kolesar was the only group that remained together for the final 20 minutes.
The Knights held a 13-6 advantage in shot attempts at five-on-five when the fourth line was on the ice.
3. Close call
Cassidy said he considered challenging the Penguins’ first goal for interference on Hill.
After Hague bobbled the puck, allowing Pittsburgh’s forecheck to pressure down low, the Knights were unable to clear the front of the net, and Graves swooped in to score 2:13 into the first period. Hill was out of position after the initial centering pass and appeared to get tangled with Lars Eller’s stick as he tried to recover.
“There was a lot going on in the crease,” Cassidy said. “We went back and forth. It looked like he had a hold of a guy’s stick, so I wasn’t sure. Lots of game left. At the end of the day, it became a huge goal.”