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Hanfin deal comes as Cassidy calls out slumping Golden Knights


LAS VEGAS (AP) — After yet another frustrating loss to an opponent hovering around the bottom of the standings, Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy publicly criticized his team Monday night for a lack of effort.

Vegas lost by a combined 13-5 at Buffalo (third from the bottom in the Atlantic Division) and at Columbus (last in the Metropolitan) to end a trip in which the Knights went 1-3-1 to continue their slide. They are 2-7-1 in their past 10 games.

Cassidy didn't back off his comments Wednesday, but made the point he was referring specifically to those losses to the Sabres and Blue Jackets and not necessarily the season as a whole. He was asked what his level of concern was for the defending Stanley Cup champions with 20 games left in the season.

“Well, let's see tomorrow,” Cassidy said, referring to a home game Thursday night against Pacific Division leader Vancouver. “Is this going to continue, or are we putting the brakes on this and getting going here? We're eighth (in the Western Conference), so the next spot, you're out of the playoffs.”

Cassidy pointed to the past two seasons as examples of how differently a season can end.

The Knights missed the playoffs two years ago after a series of injuries and a late-season slide. They won the championship last season by bouncing back from a slump that occurred before the All-Star break.

With 73 points, Vegas is tied with Los Angeles for the third and final spot in the Pacific and the Kings and Nashville for a potential wild card slot in the Western Conference. There is some cushion, though, with contenders Seattle and St. Louis each at 67 points and at this moment out of the postseason picture.

The Knights, who have a history of being big buyers at the trade deadline, already have made a move by dealing for winger Anthony Mantha from Washington. Mantha will skate in practice Thursday morning and likely play on William Karlsson's line against the Canucks.

Mantha has 20 goals this season, the first time he has reached that figure since 2019. He said he went into this season with something to prove.

“I've been shooting the puck," Mantha said. “In the last couple of years, I've kind of stayed away from it, but I feel like this year I have to let it go and it's been working out.”

The Knights made another trade Wednesday night, a three-way deal that delivers Vegas defenseman Noah Hanifin from Calgary. Vegas sent the Flames defenseman Daniil Miromanov and a combination of draft picks to Calgary and Philadelphia. Hanifan led the Flames' defensemen in scoring with 35 points.

The banged-up Knights could also make some other moves before Friday's trade deadline, and they are getting some help from within. Even though defenseman Alec Martinez was place on injured reserve Wednesday with a lower-body injury, in recent days center Jack Eichel (knee injury) returned to game action and defenseman Ben Hutton (upper-body injury) to practice.

“We've got to find our game here pretty quickly,” Eichel said. “Last year, coming out of the bye week in February and March, that's when we were playing our best hockey and we felt really good about ourselves moving forward. Right now, we're obviously treading water and not at our best, but we know we have the group in here that can turn it around.”

Vegas management decided to run it back after winning the Cup last season, dealing only Reilly Smith to Pittsburgh. But injuries have forced the Knights to promote multiple players from their American Hockey League affiliate in Henderson.

Their vaunted defense that was key to last season's success also has fallen off noticeably. The forwards are trying to make up the difference by aggressively trying to create scoring opportunities, which instead often leads to high-danger chances the other way for the opponents.

Goalie Adin Hill, who shined in the playoffs last season with a .932 save percentage and a 2.17 goals-against average, has seen his numbers decline over this recent stretch. His save percentage has been less than .900 in six of his past seven games, and Hill has given up four or more goals in four of those games.

The lack of defense in front of him certainly hasn't helped, but Hill said he could do better as well.

“I've always had confidence in my game,” Hill said. “The last few games haven't been as good as I expect the result to be, but that's on me. I'm going to try and change that.”

Hill and his teammates have 20 games to get their season back on course and keep alive hopes for another Stanley Cup run.

“No more of sort of losing our way for five minutes or 10 minutes,” Cassidy said. “It's costing us valuable points. I have faith in this group, and I think management does. I think the players do. We've got to get it done. That's it. You can talk all you want, we do have to get it done. I don't think it's that far away.”