Prior to the start of the game, the Coach of the visiting team is required to name the starting line-up to the Official Scorer. Then, the Coach of the home team, having been advised by the Official Scorer the names of the starting line-up of the visiting team, shall name the starting line-up of the home team.
I cleaned it up a little to make it less awful to read, but that’s directly from the NHL’s rule book, Rule 7.1. This happens about 10 to 20 minutes before puck drop and for the most part, it’s insignificant.
But every once in a while there’s a bit of a game within the game being played by one of the coaches, and that’s been the case for the new coach of the Golden Knights over the last three games.
The starts weren’t good prior to me getting here, and the first two or three games that I was here. Particularly the Boston game, I thought we didn’t start playing until the 10-minute mark. -Pete DeBoer
Last night against Tampa Bay, DeBoer sent out Tomas Nosek, Ryan Reaves, and William Carrier. In Nashville, he started Nosek, Reaves, and Nic Roy. And in Carolina, he went with Roy, Reaves, and Carrier.
So, the 4th line, sorta. In all three games, the official lineup was announced as Nosek, Roy, and Reaves on the 4th line with Carrier playing on the 3rd line. Yet in two of the three Carrier was in the starting lineup with the 4th line. Both games, that was the only shift Carrier took with Reaves, Nosek, or Roy. Nonetheless, DeBoer essentially played a 4th line to start each game.
In response, Tampa Bay countered with their dominant 1st line (Kucherov, Stamkos, Point), while both Nashville (Sissons, Blackwell, Watson) and Carolina (Martinook, Williams, Fleury) came back with their 4th lines.
Vegas won the opening draw in all three games, instantly got the puck in deep, and held the opposition without a shot attempt. Against Tampa, Carrier created a dangerous chance, the only one by either team in the three opening shifts.
In all three games though, the starters did their job, exiting the ice in a better position than they started. To start the game the draw is in the neutral zone with neither team having position (obviously, that’s the point of the opening draw). When they left, each time the line of Paul Stastny, Reilly Smith, and Jonathan Marchessault came on either already in the offensive zone or with a free clear from the D-zone as the opposition changed lines as well.
No goals, no shots on goal, but positive shifts all three times from the 4th line starters.
One thing about those guys is they’re ready to go, and they drag the group into the game. I think they’ve done a great job the last three games. I thought we’ve had great starts, and that’s a credit to those guys setting the tone. -DeBoer
In 22 road games this season under Gerard Gallant, the Golden Knights didn’t start the 4th line, or any combination resembling it, a single time. In fact, in 118 road games coached by Gallant, his 4th line center never took the opening draw.
On two occasions the 3rd line center took the draw. Once with a line of Cody Eakin, Oscar Lindberg, and Reaves and another with Eakin, Ryan Carpenter, and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Aside from those two, about 70% of the time it was VGK’s 1st line and the other 28% was the 2nd line.
Yet DeBoer has gone with his 4th line in three of his six games and all of them since the break when he says he really started implementing his philosophies.
So, you are probably asking, why would he do this?
The first and most obvious answer is to “set a tone,” using DeBoer’s words. The Golden Knights 4th line has always, under Gallant and now DeBoer, played a simple straight forward game. There’s no clowning around at the blue line, there’s no fancy stuff in the o-zone, it’s as easy as, get the puck in, maintain possession above all else, and try to get it to the net when possible. DeBoer is likely preaching this style in his meetings with the team (every coach does for the most part), and he’s using the 4th line as a shining example by giving them the nod to start the game. “To drag the group into the game,” as he put it.
The second answer is a bit more tactical. By starting the 4th line, the opposition has to make a choice. Do we match like we normally do and counter with our 4th line or do we go with our best line and try to take advantage of a mismatch? There are pros and cons to both. Using your 4th line means one less shift for your best players in the period, but it also means when Vegas changes you aren’t caught on a mismatch yourself. Going with the 1st line means you’ve got the best possible matchup for your best players, but if they don’t score, you are handing that exact same situation back to the opponent when your 1st line changes. Either way, it forces a little bit of thinking from the home coach, causes him to have to take a risk, a small one, but it puts the onus on the home team, something that’s always good for the road team.
Finally, it’s about setting your best players up in a better position. Would you rather have the 1st and 2nd line take a draw in the neutral zone or the offensive zone? If you trust your 4th line to win a shift, even against one of the best lines in the entire NHL, then the next two shifts with your 1st line and 2nd line will be in the offensive zone and against lesser opposing lines, assuming all goes as planned.
It’s a tiny little thing, and the possibility of it backfiring is pretty large (if Kucherov scores while being guarded by Reaves, whose fault is that?) but DeBoer felt he had to do something to help his team avoid the miserable starts they’ve been having.
I’d say it’s worked, especially considering they’ve been the better team in three straight first periods, but there’s a lot more to it than which three forwards step on the ice first, even if I just spent more than 1,000 words explaining the significance.