Who needs James Neal and Reilly Smith when the Vegas Golden Knights have ... Alex Tuch and Cody Eakin?
Yes, the third line lives. There probably wasn’t a set of players that needed to get going offensively more than Eakin and Tuch, with both scoring two goals and Marc-Andre Fleury recording a 28-save shutout for a 4-0 Vegas win against the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit on Thursday.
The Golden Knights (43-16-5, 91 points) won their 19th road game this season, tying the 1993-94 Mighty Ducks of Anaheim for most by a team in its inaugural season, just in case you were thinking the Golden Knights couldn’t break anymore expansion records this season. It’s a win that came at an opportune time for Vegas, after losing 4-1 in Columbus on Tuesday.
Fleury rebounded from allowing those four goals the other night for his 47th career shutout and 398th career victory. It’s Fleury’s third shutout this season, as he defeated the team that cost him two months of this season with a concussion.
This was Tuch’s first multi-goal game of his career. His first goal snapped a six-game goalless streak (Feb. 21) at 2:24 of the first period. He scored again at 18:38 of the second period for his 12th and 13th goals of what’s been an up-and-down rookie campaign for Tuch.
Eakin, meanwhile, recorded his first multi-goal game since Oct. 10, 2015 for his eighth (10:40) and ninth (17:48) goals of the season, both coming in the second period.
William Karlsson recorded his 25th assist in the second period, giving him 60 points this year.
We’ve reached that point of the season where any win for the Golden Knights is in ‘much-needed’ territory.
Just when it looked like the Golden Knights broke out of their post-trade deadline slump with a win at New Jersey, they fell flat in Columbus two nights later — which made Vegas’ trip to Detroit all the more important. The final two games of this five-game road trip are going to be magnified greatly with 15 games to go.
But for one night, the Golden Knights got back on track with a performance that they desperately needed to have at both ends, and it came from the unlikeliest of heroes.
It seemed like this game was coming for Tuch after getting so many scoring chances over the last five games. His first goal was a great individual effort and was one of the rare opportunities Tuch has had the chance to make a play on that third line that somehow sucks the offensive life force out of the building.
GOAL! Alex Tuch with a SNIPE to give Vegas the lead. pic.twitter.com/OaE3H8KqOn— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) March 9, 2018
And now Alex Tuch score HIS second of the night! It's 4-0 now! pic.twitter.com/gDFiWDor3A— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) March 9, 2018
That’s why it’s just as alarming, and really positive, that Eakin found the back of the net twice because he’s the driving force for the lack of offense on the bottom six. He’s spent more time trying to make a play with the puck/playing keep-away in the offensive zone than set up the likes of Tuch and, when everyone’s healthy, Tomas Tatar. Tonight, Eakin was his usual patient self, but made the plays that he’s been unable to make over the course of this season.
The breakaway short-handed goal in the second period was badly needed for many reasons, but none greater than it got Eakin going. He also snapped a six-game goalless streak, but hadn’t scored again since Jan. 5. If he doesn’t score that shorty to give Vegas a 2-0 lead, the momentum likely remains on a see-saw and Detroit could capitalize with over a minute remaining on the power play.
GOAL! Cody Eakin scores on a shorthanded (!) 2-on-0 breakaway. Horrible line change by Detroit. pic.twitter.com/PstAUwNaKx— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) March 9, 2018
Eakin’s second goal was the perfect example of confidence and remaining patient while finding the soft spot in the defense.
Spinning right round with a ton of muscle and @CodyEakin50 is sending it in. #VGKvsDET pic.twitter.com/KvWFZ53vmH— NHL (@NHL) March 9, 2018
All of this happens with Vegas missing its two primary offensive weapons in Smith (who left in the second period Tuesday with an upper-body injury) and Neal, who has missed the past five games with an injury. Vegas didn’t get much production from Tatar in his return to Detroit (three shots in 15:46 and 4 PIM) playing with Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault. David Perron, Erik Haula and Tomas Hyka combined for eight shots.
If this is the turning point for Eakin and Tuch, there’s no better time than now for it. Vegas remains six points back of the Nashville Predators for first in the Western Conference (by the way, 10 friggin’ straight wins for Nashville, good lord), but the Golden Knights’ lead in the Pacific Division goes back to 11 points.
It might take wins against bad teams to get going, and Vegas will get another one of those Saturday in Buffalo. This team needs a winning streak in the worst way, and getting four goals from the third line might be the turning point.