NEW YORK, N.Y. — Alex Tuch laughed at its mention. The “All-American Line.”
Their Manhattan matinee, however, was no laughing matter. The trio of Tuch, Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny combined for five points, including a linkup between Stastny and Tuch for the game-winner in overtime.
Each player has had a habit of improving the play of those around him, and comes into this line with some fanfare: Tuch is the team’s leading points-per-game man and the recipient of a shiny new seven-year contract, Pacioretty is a five-time 30-goal scorer and former captain of the Montreal Canadiens, and Stastny is one of the game’s stronger playmakers, as well as the son (and nephew) of hockey royalty.
Assembling a strong line is more than just stapling three great players to one another; ideally, the three all play to each other’s strengths.
“They’re both big guys, I don’t think people realize how big Patches is,” said Stastny. “They both have great shots, Tuch has that speed where he can take it to the net, and Max is great at protecting the puck.”
Tuch’s speed, at his size, is rare in the NHL. Sure, the game’s speed has increased rapidly over the past decade, but seeing a six-foot-four forward barreling down the wing is not yet a common sight. But this line is not built on its speed, at least not solely.
Stastny: “It’s fun to score off the rush, but it doesn’t happen too often. Our recipe for success is more geared towards limiting our own turnovers.”
Patience was on display for both Tuch and Stastny’s goals, the former seeing the 22-year-old hold onto the puck until the last second, rifling a wrister under Henrik Lundqvist’s right arm, and the latter seeing Pacioretty draw out the netminder and two defenders before coolly sliding the rubber to Stastny for a gimme.
It was the only type of approach that appeared capable of beating Lundqvist, as William Carrier also demonstrated in the second period.
Tuch seems to be loving life with his line. “[Pacioretty and Stastny] are two really smart, highly-skilled hockey players,” the Syracuse native said. “I look up to both of those guys and I try to learn as much as possible, and that’s between games, even between shifts.”
Head coach Gerard Gallant felt Stastny played a strong game. “He played real well tonight,” Gallant said. “Good for him to get that first goal with us.”
According to the All-American center, the line has just begun to scratch the surface.
“Every game’s gonna get better and better.”