It’s a problem that’s common around the NHL, and it’s certainly not new here in Las Vegas, but the Golden Knights have once again found themselves searching for the identity of their 3rd line.
The top six, bolstered by superstars Jack Eichel and Mark Stone, and supported by The Misfits, have set the tone for the team both offensively and defensively. It’s clear what is expected of them each and every night and typically they deliver.
The 4th line, which has mostly been anchored by the pair of William Carrier and Keegan Kolesar, has been dubbed the “Energy Line” by Bruce Cassidy. Their expectation is to play a physical, north/south style of game in order to make life difficult on the other team no matter which line they play against. They’ve done exactly that the entire season and have even chipped in a bit more offense than expected along the way.
But the 3rd line remains a bit of an enigma. Is it a checking line? Is it a defense-first shutdown line? Is it supposed to be the main source of supplemental offense?
What is the identity of that line supposed to be?
Well, I know what I’d like it to be but you can’t make players something they’re not. I’d like to have the type of line that can play in any type of game. Forecheck game, check well in close scoring game, and secondary offense. We have some guys at the top of the lineup that are giving us good offensive numbers so we don’t necessarily need just an offensive line. We need a 200-foot, heavier type of game line would be the best way to describe it. -Bruce Cassidy
Even before the injury bug hit the Golden Knights a bit, it’s been a bit of a revolving door on the 3rd line. While each of the top line (Stephenson, Eichel, Stone), the Misfit Line (Smith, Karlsson, Marchessault), and the 4th line (Carrier, Roy, Kolesar) have seen at least 16 of the 27 games together, no 3rd line has started more than seven games together.
There have been nine different 3rd line combinations with six of them playing three or fewer games together.
In a perfect world there would be some similarities to the Carrier, Kolesar (line). Physical people that maybe have a little more offensively tilted game, but that’s not Phil (Kessel), we know that. It is Nic Roy, so that’s why we moved him there and if we can find the right left-winger to complement both of those guys then we’ll have something. But until we do we’ll keep trying. -Bruce Cassidy
The group of Paul Cotter, Nic Roy, and Phil Kessel recently played four consecutive games together, and certainly might be the answer moving forward, but with Eichel’s absence, Cotter has found himself on the 1st line.
Paul Cotter could be that guy. He’s a guy that can play north and we saw it in Boston, all of his best attributes came through. We don’t expect him to score two goals every night but to give us some of that flavor of game is what we’d like to see for a young guy and then be consistent with it. -Cassidy
In the meantime, Cassidy is looking towards Roy to bring along whoever finds their way onto the 3rd line as Cotter deputizes up the lineup.
We’re asking Nic to pull a few players in on the 3rd line and see if he can get that one up and running. It’s still a work in progress but it’s still only early December so we have some time to sort through that. -Cassidy
Tonight, Jonas Rondbjerg will get a shot, making up the 10th different 3rd-line combination in 28 games. But, don’t expect Cassidy to stick with anything too long if he doesn’t like how it’s going.
How much are you taking away from one to give to the other? You hope it works out and it did in Boston. If it doesn’t work then maybe we’ll go the other route and sacrifice from another line and live with it. -Cassidy
He mentioned Carrier potentially moving up into Cotter’s place which would send Paul back to the 3rd. Or Michael Amadio coming back in as a center to allow Roy to move up.
Either way, “work in progress” is certainly a term that will continue to describe the 3rd line for now and likely well into the foreseeable future. Cassidy’s vision of what he wants it to be makes sense and would be great if he can sort it out, but the personnel on the roster just doesn’t seem to fit the concept at the moment.
Bruce will keep trying to fit the pieces to the puzzle in as many ways as he can until he finds the best option. At some point though, it’ll likely be up to the men upstairs to find some new pieces.