When James Neal opted not to re-sign with the Golden Knights back in July, the team lost one of its smartest players.
But not to fret. The Knights acquired a player with a very high hockey I.Q. when they signed Paul Stastny.
The veteran center knows how to play the game. He does things the right way. He understands the subtleties of hockey and he makes his linemates better, which is what any playmaking center is supposed to do.
But when he got hurt in Buffalo back on Oct. 8 and missed 30 games, everyone forgot all those characteristics. He was out of sight and out of mind.
He has been back for 10 games now and with his return, the Knights have returned to the top of the Pacific Division standings. He is centering the second line and despite an ever-changing cast on his flanks, Stastny is producing as are his linemates.
The initial plan was to have Stastny center for Max Pacioretty and Alex Tuch. But he has also played with Erik Haula, Reilly Smith and Brandon Pirri. Currently, the line is Stastny, Tuch and Pirri. Pirri has six goals and three assists. Tuch, who has 14 goals, the latest an empty-netter to seal Tuesday’s 2-0 New Year’s Day shutout of the Los Angeles Kings, has registered at least one point in five of his last six games.
Stastny said it’s all about communicating.
It’s not that hard to adjust (to playing with different players). You talk on the bench and make sure everyone is on the same page. -Stastny
Pirri, who has bounced around the NHL and has played with a lot of good players, said Stastny is really good at adjusting his game to fit his linemates’.
His character is so good. He makes my life and Tuchy’s life so much easier. He tells you where he’s going to be and he gets you the puck. He’s a playmaker and all you have to do is get open and he’ll get it to you. -Pirri
But it’s not just the obvious that makes Stastny so effective. It’s the things that don’t show up on the stat sheet that he does over the course of a game.
Here are two examples:
Midway through the first period Tuesday, the Knights had lost possession in the Kings’ zone. No big deal, right? You try and win back the puck and you start over. Stastny did just that by getting to a loose puck, then making a subtle but sweet backhand pass to Ryan Carpenter who turned it into a quality scoring chance.
Jack Campbell made the save on Carpenter. But because Stastny knew where to be on the ice, he was able to get to the puck, then knew what to do with it.