Gerard Gallant had plans for the massive overhaul of the Vegas Golden Knights’ second and third lines. One of them, however, wasn’t the possibility of more communication among the collection of forwards that haven’t played with each other as much.
“Well, I wasn’t thinking of that, but it sounds really good because there is nothing that coaches like more than communication on the ice,” Gallant said. “So, maybe I’ll do that every game, if it works out well.”
For one night at least, with the Golden Knights going full Tom Petty mode and freefalling ever so hard, Gallant and his team found the formula to prove they’re at least not willing to go away quietly into the night. A 5-1 victory against the Nashville Predators — as well as former Golden Knights killer Juuse Saros — may just be what the doctor ordered with 22 games to go in the regular season.
Six games ago, after the Golden Knights lost 3-1 to the Florida Panthers, the thought of hitting the panic button began to creep to the forefront. Then, Vegas responds with a shootout win over the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning, followed by a win at Detroit. The case was then closed over the big red button. Then it was swiftly opened again when Vegas lost three straight at home by a combined tally of 15-8; all three games being a third period shellacking at the hands of Columbus, Arizona and Toronto.
Gallant went full shake-up mode; pushing Brandon Pirri to the second line with Paul Stastny and Alex Tuch, while Max Pacioretty was bumped down to Oscar Lindberg and Cody Eakin. It’s a swap that made sense. Pirri played his best hockey with Stastny and Tuch while Pacioretty was injured from Dec. 20 - Jan. 1. Pacioretty hadn’t scored a goal in six games, and the third line needed a spark.
The end result?
- Pirri — 1G
- Stastny — 1A
- Tuch — 2A
- Pacioretty — 2G
- Eakin — 1A
- Lindberg — 1G, 1A
“That was a great game by our group against a great team,” Pacioretty said following his fourth multi-goal game of the season. “We talk about playing for 60 minutes and the right way, and that’s what we want to achieve.”
Offensively, it was the output the Golden Knights needed. One can only wonder if they would’ve gotten enough support from Marc-Andre Fleury to win such a game. But Saturday was surely the night to go to Malcolm Subban, who last started Jan. 6, and he didn’t miss a beat. Subban made 29 saves and got the better of his brother P.K. for a second time. After losing his first five starts of the season (19 goals allowed, .873 save percentage), Subban has responded with an outstanding stretch with three straight wins (four goals allowed with a .960 save percentage).
Add in that 30-save performance against Columbus on Dec. 17 in which Subban allowed the only goal of the contest, Subban has allowed five goals on 130 shots and has a .962 save percentage. He’s been deserving of some more time. Dividing up that time with Fleury in these final 22 games is a conversation now worth having.
“I felt good obviously to get back in there,” Subban said. “When you don’t play for a while, you never know how it’s going to go. You just try to focus on the first shot, one shot at a time.”
Nothing is fixed by any stretch. There are still three games before the trade deadline. Questions need to be answered. Decisions need to be made. If the goal is for the Golden Knights to still win the Pacific Division, now is the time to make some traction. Vegas trails Calgary and San Jose by nine points, and leads Vancouver by nine points for its third place spot.
Fortunately for Vegas, it didn’t need to make the end-all, be-all deal for Erik Karlsson to reach the Stanley Cup Final. Cody Glass would not be the holdup for a possible Mark Stone deal as it was to a Karlsson deal last year. It might not even cost Glass, or Erik Brannstrom for that matter. If the Golden Knights want to contend in a wide-open Western Conference, a phone call or two from George McPhee’s office needs to be coming.
This has been a constant thought all season: There’s a reason why the NHL has an 82-game schedule. Stretches, whether good or bad, are not constant. Refer back to the first 20 games as a prime example. But for one night, the Golden Knights have at least found a formula and reasoning to believe there’s a turnaround on the horizon.
The time, however, is ticking to find out if it will come to fruition.