It’s been 423 days since the formation of 81-71-19.
For the first time in over a year, the Vegas Golden Knights will take the ice with Jonathan Marhcessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith fully healthy, but will not play on the same line.
The Golden Knights face the Montreal Canadiens in a Saturday matinee at T-Mobile Arena. Vegas will look to win its seventh straight at home, and will debut a new top line. Alex Tuch will move to the top trio with Marchessault and Karlsson, and Smith will drop to the second line with Brandon Pirri and Paul Stastny.
Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to make his league-high 33rd start for the Golden Knights days removed from moving into sole possession of ninth place in wins (424). Carey Price, fresh off his 300th win in the NHL, is expected to get the nod for Montreal — the Canadiens have won six of nine entering play.
Let’s break this matchup down.
Going with this change is one hell of a seismic shift in the Golden Knights’ logistic thinking.
Gerard Gallant doesn’t like to change lines with the exception of a few wrinkles in the bottom six. A gargantuan-like change such as this isn’t an indictment on the play of the top line, or Smith and/or Tuch, for that matter.
Gallant made the move midway through the second period on Thursday against the New York Islanders. It nearly paid off instantly — Tuch had a goal taken away due to an offsides call, and then there’s this play in which I’m probably the only one that thinks was significant.
Tuch as a net-front presence on this top line opens up a lot of possibilities. It also helps he’s a big body that can create space for his linemates every time he touches the puck.
“He’s a very fast, big guy, and can protect the puck well,” Karlsson said. “There are a lot of good things that come with having Tuchy on the line.”
To be clear: The swap of Tuch and Smith did not alter the course of Thursday’s game. Vegas controlled the flow of the game in terms of shots (47-21) and possession. Two goals in 63 seconds from Karlsson (4-on-4) and Stastny (from Smith) were the difference. But whether or not this is considered a promotion for 89, he’s earned the extra ice time with his 25 points in 29 games.
“I think that our lines are interchangeable, and we’ve always felt that way,” Tuch said. “They’ve been together for a really long time, [the coaches] wanted to mix it up and maybe it’s a spark that we need to consistently be where we want to be.
“It doesn’t matter who you play with. You have to come ready to play.”
The second line of misfit toys
Max Pacioretty will miss his second straight game. Yes, this would be against his former team. Narratives come every once in a blue moon. I refer you to Thursday when Pirri scored his first goal since being called up from AHL Chicago.
The second line can’t stay healthy, but damn it to hell if it doesn’t stay consistent — take out Stastny, Cody Eakin plays well. Take out Pacioretty, Pirri scores. Move Tuch up for a spark, Smith finds Stastny for the game-winning goal Thursday.
“He’s easy to play with,” Stastny said about Smith. “He holds on to the puck, buys you that extra second or two. Whether you’re playing the give-and-go game or whether you’re a guy like Pirri who’s in the slot, he buys you that extra second to get open.”
Watching how Smith and Stastny play together is going to be intriguing. Smith isn’t the power forward Tuch is, nor is he the sniper and goal-scoring savant that Pacioretty is. But he’s a patient playmaker that will get the puck to wherever Stastny or Pirri are. That’s how Vegas holds stability in the top six while waiting for Pacioretty to come back.
Another back-to-back for Flower?
Here we go again. The Golden Knights begin another back-to-back with the Los Angeles Kings visiting tomorrow. This will be the third back-to-back for Vegas in less than a month. Fleury has played the backend of the back-to-back twice. In those SEGABABAs, Fleury benefited from little travel and enough rest to go the next day.
Saturday is another early start for Vegas followed by a late game Sunday. If Fleury plays well (or, plot twist, plays at all!), and Vegas wins, he likely gets the call against L.A. Lest we forget Malcolm Subban’s outstanding 30-save performance Monday in Columbus. He’s deserving of more time, right?
That sound is the Subban contingent getting the torches and pitchforks ready again.
They call him Tatar salad
Another day, another old friend visits T-Mobile Arena. Tomas Tatar returns to Vegas for the first time since being traded for Pacioretty on Sept. 10.
Tatar was acquired by Vegas in a trade with Detroit on Feb. 26. He had a lackluster 20 games in hopes of adding punch to the bottom six, but Tatar has found new life in Montreal with 24 points (12 goals, 12 assists) in 36 games. He even scored the game-winning goal in the first meeting Nov. 10.
Montreal hopes to make some playoff noise this season with the likes of Tatar and Max Domi leading the charge. So far, that trade seems to be working out for both teams for lack of a better term.
How to watch
Time: 1 p.m. PT
TV: AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain, NHL.TV
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM