After a rocky start, the Vegas Golden Knights are looking like their old selves from last year. They’ve rattled off four straight wins, largely thanks to back-to-back shutouts from Marc-Andre Fleury. Another big reason for the Knights’ recent success is the dominance from their second line.
Gone are James Neal and David Perron, and in come Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny ... and Alex Tuch? And Cody Eakin!
Golden Knights general manager George McPhee revamped the second line by fetching one of the biggest free agents, Stastny, and acquiring Pacioretty in a trade with Montreal.
But things haven’t gone according to plan. Stastny has been out with a lower-body injury since the third game of the season in Buffalo. Erik Haula then took his place as the second-line center, but is now out for an unknown amount of time after a leg injury he sustained Nov. 6 in Toronto.
The new triad has become Pacioretty, Eakin and Tuch, and it’s worked. All three players seem to score every game — Tuch has 14 points in the past 11 games, Pacioretty is on a six-game point streak, and Eakin scored twice on Tuesday in Chicago for his ninth and 10th goals of the season. They’ve easily been the best line for the Golden Knights.
In the last 10 games, the trio has combined for 17 goals and 32 points. They’ve posted an overall Corsi For of 46.76%. While this may suggest that they are not completely owning the offensive zone when they’re on the ice, they’re certainly taking advantage of the chances that they do create. And their defensive play isn’t too shabby either.
Alex Tuch is so good, man. Stayed with Chychrun like it was nothing. Got his stick in there and forced the puck back into the neutral zone. This cannot be taught. pic.twitter.com/Ik4WQHLF7l— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) November 22, 2018
Tuch has 19 points in 18 games this season. That seven-year, $33.25-million deal he signed earlier this year looks better every day. Pacioretty was ice cold in his first month in Vegas, but looks comfortable now with nine points in six games (six goals, three assists). Eakin is on pace to surpass his career-high of 19 goals.
Whether they’re scoring or not, they’re generating chances and pushing against the other team. Their chemistry is growing, which can be seen in plays such as this one which didn’t actually result in a goal.
Very good decision here by Alex Tuch to go for the dump pass. Could have taken the easy route and simply distributed the puck to Eakin on the right flank, but this nearly resulted in a Pacioretty goal. pic.twitter.com/AYva1uUjLf— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) November 15, 2018
Such play opens up the game for the rest of the team. Remember the dominant first line? With such a dangerous second line, opposing teams simply can’t focus on matching up with the first line. The fourth line of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Ryan Reaves and William Carrier is also doing wonders, which is a big reason why the Golden Knights are starting to turn a corner.
But here’s the big question: Where does that leave Stastny?
It’s too early to tell. But the Golden Knights didn’t bring in Stastny on a three-year, $19.5-million deal for him to be a third line center.
At the same time, how does one separate such a good line? The third line of Tomas Nosek, Ryan Carpenter and now Daniel Carr hasn’t had enough of an eye test to see if it pans out (they’re off to a good start, though, as Carr scored his first Vegas goal on Tuesday). The addition of Stastny or Eakin to the third line could surely help balance things out throughout the lineup.
Logic, right now, points to Stastny rejoining the second line and Eakin getting the boot to the third line. Pacioretty and Stastny were excited about the prospect of playing together before the season started, having spent time together on Team USA’s Olympic team. If given the chance, the trio of Pacioretty, Stastny and Tuch can be exhilirating. With Stastny set to return sometime in the next month (we think), it will be interesting to see what Gallant decides to do.
Right now, though, the Golden Knights are winning, and it’s in large part to 67-21-89.