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Carp: Time To Shake Things Up Again?

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2019-20 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

When Gerard Gallant decided recently that he needed to shake up his lines in order to snap the Golden Knights out of their collective funk during a five-game losing streak, I understood where he was coming from.

Sometimes a change of playing partners gets a player going. Your game becomes more focused out of necessity because your comfort level with your linemates hasn’t been established.

Moving Cody Eakin up to the second line to play with Jonathan Marchessault and Mark Stone, dropping Paul Stastny down to the third line, playing Max Pacioretty with William Karlsson and Reilly Smith and having Shea Theodore share the blue line with rookie Nic Hague seemed extreme on the surface and you may have thought it smacked of desperation on Gallant’s part.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

But the moves did reap some dividends. Eakin woke up from his season-long funk with a couple of goals. Stone also regained his scoring touch briefly. Pacioretty continued his high-level play and seemed to work well with Karlsson.

The Knights opened a four-game homestand with a pair of wins over Calgary and Toronto, though Marc-Andre Fleury needed to bail them out in both wins with spectacular third-period saves to snap the five-game losing streak. They played well enough to beat San Jose but once again came up short in the 3-on-3 overtime, an issue that needs to be addressed sooner than later.

However, there was a common thread to those three games: the Knights played with purpose and with effort and they came away with points on each occasion.

Such was not the case Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena.

In a game where Vegas needed to bring it, the Knights allowed the Edmonton Oilers to dictate the terms on the ice and it resulted in a 4-2 loss built around a lackluster effort throughout the lineup.

Gallant was none too happy about it afterward and you shouldn’t be happy either. This was a four-point game against the division leader. You were at home. Your crowd was engaged, as always, and this is what happens?

Well it starts with effort. The biggest thing is effort, then the execution works. So, the execution wasn’t there tonight, I agree 100 percent, but it’s got to start with competing and battling and winning those battles and playing to get your nose dirty a little bit. And it’s not all the guys, it’s some guys. We’ve got to get more of a team game. -Gallant

There’s no excuse for being outworked and the players own this L. Even Fleury, as brilliant as he has been of late, let in a soft goal in the first period as he allowed Ethan Bear’s shot from inside the right circle elude him, a shot he saw all the way but simply whiffed on.

But in terms of looking for culprits, Fleury is pretty far down the list. Few players gave 100 percent for 60 minutes (William Carrier comes to mind as one who did) and as NHL coaches love to say, when you have too many passengers, you’re doomed to fail.

Let’s get back to Gallant for a moment. He knew he had to shake things up for more than a single period during the team’s losing streak. Now, with the Knights having dropped two straight and a difficult stretch coming up beginning tomorrow night in Dallas against the suddenly hot Stars, could the blender be switched back on?

We caught a glimpse of what could be coming in the third period Saturday when Paul Stastny suddenly found himself centering the fourth line and Carrier got promoted to the third line.

For two years I’ve pretty much kept the lines together and when things weren’t going well it’s fun once in a while to change things up. I think the players think the same way, I really do. Will they get back together sometime, yeah they probably will. But we’ll let it ride for a while and see how things go. -Gallant

Those moves aren’t done lightly. There are implications whenever a coach changes his lineup. Motivation. Confidence. Comfortability. All come into play when someone finds himself in a new situation.

In Eakin’s case, they appear to have helped. He scored the first of the two Vegas goals Saturday against the Oilers and he continues to work hard to maintain Gallant’s trust. No. 21 now has three goals in his last four and his three tallies are just two behind Marchessault, who is supposed to be one of the Knights’ star goal-scorers.

But what about the other moves? Saturday, Gallant returned Marchessault to his regular spot with Karlsson and Reilly Smith, who incidentally has grown a funk of his own, having gone goal-less in seven straight. Putting the band back together didn’t work out so well as the trio were kept off the scoresheet.

So what goes into Gallant’s thought process? Does he rely on analytics? Does he go with his gut? Does George McPhee send him a text telling him who to play?

We look at it and we get great information but for us it’s about how the lines look and if they are creating scoring chances. Some of the stats that we look at are similar to the analytic stats so I guess it does come up, but it’s more of our own stats, not the analytic stats. -Gallant

While numbers play a role in the decision-making process, Gallant coaches by feel to a certain extent. He can tell when something isn’t working. He also can tell when guys are too comfortable. So when he hits the switch to shake things up, you shouldn’t be surprised.

Yes, it is on hunch. I don’t like to change our lines a whole lot but once in a while you throw something out there. There’s nothing tough about (changing lines) if you aren’t getting results. For two years I’ve tried to keep my lines together as much as possible. But you’ve got to mix ’em up once in a while. I think every team mixes them up when you are losing a little bit.

But I think when you put top players with top players it doesn’t matter. You get used to those guys. Sometimes it might piss them off, they want to get back with the regular line. Show me, get the results, and I’ll put you back. –Gallant

These days, the buzzphrase is “It’s a process.” Coaches in all sports use it to buy time when they’re trying to sort things out and keep the fans’ and ownership’s wrath at arm’s length. In the Golden Knights’ case, things aren’t as dire as you might believe. But they certainly aren’t great either. And with Thanksgiving just days away, this is still a team in a good spot to secure a spot in the postseason and perhaps even challenge for the division title.

You want to blame Gallant for the current predicament the team is in? That’s your right, though I disagree. He still has the respect of his players and his message is still getting through.

Ultimately, however, it’s about accountability, not change. The players, not the coach, will decide this team’s fate. They’re the ones who have to perform for 60 minutes, or longer some nights.

And if they can’t or won’t, they deserve whatever happens to them.

**Steve Carp is the author of “Vegas Born — The remarkable story of the Golden Knights.” Follow him on Twitter @stevecarp56. All of Steve Carp’s work here on SinBin.vegas is presented to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm. For over twenty-five years, the Jimmerson Law Firm has been widely recognized as one of Las Vegas’s preeminent full-service law firms. Specializing in high stakes business, civil and family litigation, the Jimmerson Law Firm has an unparalleled track record of winning when it matters most. To reach the Jimmerson Law Firm, call (702) 388-7171 and tell them SinBin.vegas sent you.**

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16 Comments

  1. Lara

    I don’t believe all the blame (or even the largest part of it) belongs to Gallant. But I do think the line-scrambling has gotten to be too much. I understand shaking things up once in a while, but how are guys supposed to develop chemistry if the lines change constantly, even during games? The top six wasn’t the problem in the first place, so I don’t understand scrambling them at all.
    Cody Eakin should be nowhere but the fourth line or the press box at this point, imo. I know Turk is fond of Eakin and trusts him, but putting him in the top six is nuts. Yes, he has a couple goals now, but one was an empty-netter and one was fluky. He’s still functioning as the hockey equivalent of a “ball-stopper” in basketball. Promising rushes just die on his stick. Furthermore, his presence is preventing Cody Glass from playing at center where he belongs.
    Instead of continuously moving guys around, I would put the top six back together and leave them there for at least a handful of games. Likewise, I’d set a lineup in the bottom six (Carrier-Glass-Tuch and Nosek-Roy-Reaves would be my move) and give it a little time to work. Enough with the nightly tossed salad and scrambled eggs, already.

    • Brian

      No ginger in the salad?

    • Tim

      I like your logic for the third and fourth line.

    • Mike StG

      Lara, I agree totally with your comments. Also, the oft-seen mid-game decision to throw lines into a blender just results in them skating around confused on the ice. Top 6 should be put back in order. Also, all the criticism of Stastny is unwarranted. They put him at C3 to help Glass at C2 to start the season. He has been put on lines with Zykov, Pirri, Nosek and Glass (out of position on wing), and only 2 or 3 games with Tuch. Really?? A guy with Stastny’s playmaking skills with those guys on wing?? At C2 Stastny, Stone & Patch seem to be of the same mind, knowing where each other will be, great tape-to-tape passing, lots of scoring chances (and scoring). They’re incredible together as a unit. With Eakin at C2, Stone (and Patch in last game) have to be the playmakers and their goal scoring has disappeared. I think Eakin should be in Bottom 6 but if they intend on playing Glass at wing they should probably just send him down to AHL. He’s constantly losing the puck on the wall and is struggling on the wing. His confidence is already suffering. He needs to be put in a position to succeed.

      • Lara

        Yes, agreed on Glass. He’s really having trouble winning 1-on-1 puck battles, which I have to think is at least partly due to his strength not quite being up to NHL standards just yet. It’s on the team to play to his strengths and do what they can to mask his weaknesses.

    • dryraindinner@gmail.com

      Agreed to all that!

  2. Lex Patten

    I’m in belief the athletes are the answer. Carp is right, Carrier is a great example right now of the efforts we saw season 1 by the whole team. Last night I enjoyed watching Reevo/Nosek/Carrier for the same reason. Our top lines have the talent(and the money) I hope they step up soon.

  3. Darren T

    get Tuch with Stone and March at Centre 2nd line

  4. Tim

    First off were playing Fleury almost every game and were hovering around 500. Backup goaltender is one of many problems. Next big problem is our defense doesn’t defend well enough and we get very little scoring from the core. Next problem is Paul Stansy at almost 7 million he’s killing us. If only 3 teams make it from the Pacific unless we make some moves were in big trouble. On the bright side I have faith in George and Kelly to make some moves to put energy back in the team. I believe some big changes are coming.

  5. DOC Williams

    Regarding Eakin. I firmly believe that the move of him to 2nd line was two fold. A) – See if you COULD get him going to some degree, to help us NOW. B) – As important, get him to “some” level” of pts so he would be of some interest to other teams for a trade in Feb. My thinking is he won’t be resigned for next year. As for the MAIN issue regarding the team and performance … nobody will convince me it’s simply not LACK OF EFFORT. It’s like to themselves they feel we are gonna make the playoffs, no problem. So, we will play hard once in a while but save all out effort for the playoffs. Because of the past 2 years success, our players just think to damn much of themselves. (ARE these guys REALLY as talented as they and others think they are)? I say maybe, WHEN they play hard every night. Otherwise they are rather mediocre, and will be setting in their fishing boats come April!!!!!!.

  6. schmitty 88

    they need to break out of this funk in a hurry McDavid and drisital toyed with the boys

  7. DOC Williams

    WOW! Latest NHL power ranking has San Jose at #11 …. The Knights … #20 !!!!!! How embarrassing, but right now … CORRECT!

  8. We tend to forget that the Knights are an expansion team. Except for the players we traded for, all the players are cast-offs other teams didn’t want. We are so transfixed by the aberration that the first season was.
    I was at the Edmonton game and I saw no effort to clear the slot by the Knights. Nobody wanted to park themselves in the slot and fight for rebounds. Our defense needs a kick in the ass.

  9. CP

    It blows my mind the amount of ignorance in these comments. The lack of hockey knowledge is abundant. They don’t have Glass playing center because he is not ready. There is a reason why the individuals in the front office and behind the bench are where they are, they understand the game. The game is so quick today that there’s a much higher degree of responsibility put on the centermen. You have to be deep in the defensive zone, you have to provide support everywhere, to your defenseman, to your wingers, all while being strong and quick enough to defend down low and then be able to transition up the ice with pace. Not to mention being good in the face-off circle and being on the right side of the puck through the neutral zone. That is an incredible amount of responsibility for a 20 year old rookie who is still adjusting to the strength, speed and dynamic of the pro game. There is a reason why guys like Seguin, Stamkos, Spezza (to name a few) started on the wing when they first came into the league. They want these guys to learn, to be able to cheat a little more on the offensive side of the puck by not having that increased burden of defensive responsibility so that when they do make the transition to the middle of the ice, there confidence isn’t lost and are ultimately in a better situation to succeed.

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