Theodore’s struggles have Golden Knights in Cup Final hole

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) Gerard Gallant made Shea Theodore skip a shift. He’s not making him walk the plank for two rough games.

Theodore’s struggles are a major reason the Golden Knights trail the Capitals 2-1 in the Stanley Cup Final going into Game 4 on Monday night in Washington. The talented, young defenseman has been on the ice for four of the Capitals’ past six goals in the series and was primarily responsible for two in Vegas’ Game 3 loss Saturday night.

”Did Shea do something real bad? He plays the game like everybody else,” Gallant said Sunday in a passionate defense of Theodore. ”He made a couple mistakes, they ended up in the back of our net. A lot of guys make mistakes in hockey games and they don’t end up in the back of the net. Shea’s a 22-year-old kid who I love. He’s a great player. He’s going to be a star in this league.”

Theodore doesn’t need to be a star, but he needs to be better for the Golden Knights to have a realistic chance of coming back in the Cup Final. In Game 3 alone, he made an ill-advised decision that sparked an odd-man rush on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s goal, and committed a brutal turnover that led to Devante Smith-Pelly’s goal that sealed it for Washington.

Trailing by two in the third period, Gallant sat the offensively gifted Theodore for more than three minutes after that giveaway. Gallant expects his whole team to be better with the puck, and Theodore knows that certainly includes him.

”Personally, not a good game,” Theodore said. ”I’ve got to be better all over the ice and definitely recharge tomorrow and get back at it. You have to have a short memory on these type of things, and it’s a seven-game series.”

The series won’t get to seven games if Theodore’s mistakes continue to haunt the Golden Knights. In addition to the blunders that cost them two goals, arguably Theodore’s worst play Saturday night came when he lollygagged down the ice on the power play and got outraced by Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen so badly goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury had to come out of his net and wound up taking a tripping penalty.

That cost Vegas a big opportunity to score on the power play and cut the deficit in half.

”We all make mistakes,” Fleury said in French. ”He must forget it.”

That’s the message from veteran defense partner Deryk Engelland, who teammates notice has been a calming and positive influence on Theodore. Engelland talked to Theodore after the loss and again the morning after to reassure him and reinforce some positive thinking.

”He’s young, you’re going to have mistakes,” Engelland said ”It’s a new day. We’ve got to get ready for Game 4 and you’ve just got to tell him to simplify, make the simple, easy play that he’s done all year for us, and just get back to our games.”

Teammates have been just as quick as Gallant to praise Theodore for his strong play this season, and there’s no doubt he’s a factor in the expansion team getting this far. But at the most critical stage of the Golden Knights’ journey, he has been close to his worst and knows it.

”I just have to be much better than I was,” Theodore said.

More Stanley Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/StanleyCupFinals

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SWhyno

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