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Golden Knights’ second line must play better in Game 4

The second line needs to be much better, which could mean removing Perron.

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Vegas Golden Knights at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Less than 24 hours after the Vegas Golden Knights‘ 3-1 loss to the Washington Capitals in Game 3, David Perron had a blunt assessment of his lines performance thus far, saying multiple times “his line needs to be better.”

His line mate, James Neal, shared a similar sentiment and was quick to point out how his line was on the ice for all three goals against on Saturday.

“I’m disappointed with our lines effort,” said Neal. “Minus three. In huge, biggest game of the year. So, that can’t happen. But I thought guys were working tonight, we were getting there. But we got a little bit more to give. I thought in the third period we were getting there, but at the same time we’re chasing and it was a little too late.”

It doesn’t take much analysis to recognize the line of Perron, Neal and Erik Haula is struggling. Collectively, the trio has only registered 10 shots through three games and they boast a robust 46.83 CF% during 5v5 play this postseason, according to Corsica.Hockey.

What was disturbing about their performance in Game 3, though, was how the Capitals’ top line and top pairing simply dominated them during 5v5 play.

David Perron Game 3 Stats

Player TOI CF CA CF% With CF% Without SF SA SF% With SF% Without
Player TOI CF CA CF% With CF% Without SF SA SF% With SF% Without
Alex Ovechkin 3:40 3 9 25 37.5 1 7 12.5 25
Evgeny Kuznetsov 4:34 4 11 26.67 38.46 1 8 11.11 28.57
Tom Wilson 4:22 3 10 23.08 40 1 8 11.11 28.57
John Carlson 4:10 2 12 14.29 50 1 7 12.5 25
Michal Kempny 5:42 3 14 17.65 54.55 1 9 10 33.33
David Perron vs Caps’ top line & top pairing Data from Natural Stat Trick

James Neal Game 3 Stats

Player TOI CF CA CF% With CF% Without SF SA SF% With SF% Without
Player TOI CF CA CF% With CF% Without SF SA SF% With SF% Without
Alex Ovechkin 3:42 3 9 25 47.06 1 7 12.5 25
Evgeny Kuznetsov 5:04 6 11 35.29 41.67 1 8 11.11 28.57
Tom Wilson 4:27 3 10 23.08 50 1 8 11.11 28.57
John Carlson 4:10 2 11 15.38 56.25 1 7 12.5 25
Michal Kempny 5:24 3 13 18.75 61.54 1 9 10 33.33
James Neal vs Caps’ top line & top pairing Data from Natural Stat Trick

Erik Haula Game 3 Stats

Player TOI CF CA CF% With CF% Without SF SA SF% With SF% Without
Player TOI CF CA CF% With CF% Without SF SA SF% With SF% Without
Alex Ovechkin 3:16 3 9 25 57.89 1 7 12.5 28.57
Evgeny Kuznetsov 4:31 6 11 35.29 57.14 1 8 11.11 33.33
Tom Wilson 3:31 3 9 25 57.89 1 7 12.5 28.57
John Carlson 4:03 2 11 15.38 66.67 1 7 12.5 28.57
Michal Kempny 5:22 3 12 20 68.75 1 8 11.11 33.33
Erik Haula vs Caps’ top line & top pairing Data from Natural Stat Trick

When you break down the above tables you will see how the top pairing of John Carlson and Michal Kempny essentially had their way with the Knights’ second line in Game 3. The Caps’ pairing not only dominated possession, they also generated a decent amount of shots while holding this line in check.

So what happened?

Of course, Alex Ovechkin was a wrecking ball throughout Game 3 and he simply looked possessed at times with the puck on his stick, so his numbers are not a surprise. But there were, however, a few plays where this line was outworked. Take the first goal for example:

This line is in complete disarray. They are either puck watching or scrambling in front of the net to desperately find the puck, while the Capitals are swarming them with pressure until they finally find twine. It’s a complete breakdown from start to finish, but I think this is definitely a play Perron and Haula would like to have a mulligan on when you look at their effort and positioning.

Perhaps this all started from their very first shift of the game when they got the puck deep in the Caps’ zone but a live bounce off the boards eventually turned into a 2-on-1 the other way. Thankfully, Marc-Andre Fleury made one of his typical “out of this world” saves and kept the game scoreless.

Kuznetsov’s chip past Nate Schmidt was a bit lucky, but aside from that you could only nitpick Perron’s effort on the forecheck. Neal did try to get back, but he just doesn’t have the speed to catch a streaking Ovechkin.

The real issue with this play is these are the kind of puck battles we have witnessed the Knights win all year and it’s honestly a bit weird to see them consistently lose them now, especially this line.

It wasn’t all bad, though. Take this shift late in the second period for example. They get the puck in deep, cycle it, and end up generating a chance in front of the net.

This is the kind of shift the second line needs to create more of in Game 4. This line thrives on getting pucks in deep and grinding their opponent down.

Another part of of their success is how patient they are with the puck once they pin an opponent in their zone. However, during this series it seems like they are really putting an emphasis on getting pucks to the slot and, at times, almost forcing it there instead of letting things develop, which is something Perron admitted he felt, too.

On the other hand, if Gerard Gallant has lost faith in this second line he could completely shake things up. Based on the line rushes at morning skate, which saw Alex Tuch reinserted on the second line and Tomas Tatar on the third line, it seems like Gallant is leaning towards a major change for Game 4. However, nothing has been confirmed yet.

Although the underlying numbers are very, very similar with Tuch on the second line (46.27 CF% in 5v5 with Tuch, 46.83 CF% with Perron), his ability to create offense in high-danger chances (HDCF) this postseason (45 HDCF, 45 HDCA) has been much more consistent than Perron (25 HDCF, 42 HDCA).

Perron has had some big moments with Neal and Haula this season, but it seems like Gallant has seen enough and is ready to give Tuch another shot on the second line.

Regardless of who is on this line, it will be interesting to watch during Game 4 since it looks like Barry Trotz is targeting this group in matchups more and more. Will this trio adjust and mitigate the Caps’ top line? Or will they continue to struggle?

Advanced stats from Corsica.Hockey and Natural Stat Trick.