At first glance, it looked like a typical hockey play.
Erik Haula had just released the puck and Patrick Marleau was finishing his check on the Golden Knights’ center just over five minutes into the third period of what would be a 3-1 Toronto Maple Leafs win. But Haula landed awkwardly, clutching his right knee.
Obviously, this was serious.
Haula was stretchered off the ice at the Scotiabank Centre and it’s likely he’s going to be out for a while. Gerard Gallant said he’ll know more today, but even he admitted after the game it didn’t look good.
So what do the Knights do?
They can call someone up from Chicago of the AHL. They can play one of the current members of the 23-man roster, Ryan Carpenter perhaps. Or maybe general manager George McPhee works the phones and trades for someone. That would likely depend on the length of time Haula is out.
Paul Stastny is still a few weeks from returning to the lineup. Max Pacioretty returned to the ice Tuesday after he missed four games. He actually looked O.K. playing on the line with Haula and Alex Tuch.
I’m tempted to call that trio “The Jinx Line.” Tuch was out at the start of the season with an injury. Then Pacioretty missed some time. Now, it’s Haula’s turn.
Haula was actually starting to show signs of life after a slow start. He had a couple of assists in Saturday’s 3-0 win over Carolina. He was skating well, making plays in the corner and behind the net. And while he has just two goals so far, he was shooting the puck with more confidence of late and he was third on the team in scoring with seven points (2 G, 5 A).
GMGM isn’t one to panic, especially when he doesn’t have the upper hand in trying to make a deal. I suspect he will let Carpenter or Oscar Lindberg get a shot to show they can play regular minutes somewhere, especially if Gallant opts to move Cody Eakin up to the second line.
If you recall, Eakin centered Vegas’ top line at the beginning of last season, pivoting for David Perron and James Neal. He’s a more-than-competent faceoff man and his game may be the most flexible of anyone else.
Make no mistake about it, Haula will definitely be missed. His speed. His shiftiness. His ability to set up his linemates. Even that little mean streak he has. All are factors Gallant has to take into account as he contemplates what to do going into Thursday’s game against Ottawa.
Let’s say Gallant does move Eakin up to the second line with Tuch and Pacioretty. What should he do with the third line? The Two Tomases — Nosek and Hyka — played well Tuesday against the Maple Leafs. I’d be inclined to leave them where they are. As for who to put in the middle, my gut tells me it should be Carpenter. But my brain is saying, move Pierre-Edouard Bellemare up and let Carpy center for Will Carrier and Ryan Reaves.
Why Bellemare? His game has more built-in flexibility. He can play with quicker players, which Hyka certainly is. He also can be a little more reliable defensively in his own end. Currently, the fourth line’s forte is a strong forecheck and maintaining continuity on the shift until the Marchessault-Karlsson-Smith line replaces them.
Carpenter may fit in better with Carrier and Reaves. He’s strong on his skates and is an underrated passer. He also doesn’t shy away from contact and he is responsible enough in his own end of the ice. He may be best-suited to keep that line’s style of play intact.
Many of you probably won’t like the idea of breaking up the Bellemare-Reaves-Carrier trio, mostly because Reaves is second on the team in goals with his four-pack. But Gallant is going to do what’s best overall, and if it means Bellemare moves up, so be it.
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