William Carrier is expected to make his return to the lineup tonight after missing the previous five games. He will not, however, find his way back onto his usual line with Nic Roy and Keegan Kolesar. That spot is being filled by another recent returnee, Brett Howden.
Carrier is instead set to play on a line with Chandler Stephenson and Phil Kessel. Not only is this a new line for all three, but no pair of players on the line has played more than one game with each other this season. Stephenson and Kessel played with Michael Amadio a few games ago against the Dallas Stars, aside from that Carrier and Kessel have never been matched, nor have Carrier and Stephenson.
What makes this line interesting is the vastly different usage rates we’ve seen from each player on it. Carrier is tied with Kolesar in taking 29% of their faceoffs in the offensive zone, the fewest of any Golden Knights. Kessel on the other hand leads all forwards in offensive zone draws, seeing 60% of his dead-puck shifts beginning in the O-Zone. Stephenson lands closer to Kessel at 55%, but he has had plenty of games where the majority of his shifts start closer to his own goal, something that cannot be said for Kessel.
Based on previous usage it’s expected that Cassidy deploys the 4th line (Howden-Roy-Kolesar) in the defensive zone quite a bit tonight, it’s also probable he’ll use Eichel, Cotter, and Amadio heavily offensively. The Misfits can do either, but Cassidy has always preferred to try and pull offense out of them when together. So, where does that leave the newly formed 3rd line?
Another aspect that further complicates things with a Stephenson, Carrier, Kessel line is what happens if the center is tossed out of the faceoff circle. Kessel has taken just eight faceoffs this season while Carrier has been on the dot for only six. Between them, they’ve won 4 of 15, or 26.7%. Cassidy did mention the ability to “toggle” between Howden and Carrier on the left wing which could also remedy this situation.
I think (Stephenson and Carrier) enjoy playing with one another. Stephenson has been on the wing for a long time but I think he’s better suited in the middle. We just have to find the right wingers for him. We’ll see how that plays out. -Cassidy
Carrier and Stephenson did play together quite a bit last season and the results were decent. They were on the ice together for 15 goals in 251 minutes while conceding 12 times. There was also an uptick in chance creation for Stephenson compared to his minutes without Carrier.
The new look 3rd line certainly gives Vegas some of the most balance they’ve had in weeks, but it doesn’t come without concerns and uncertainty. How Cassidy manages it will likely go a long way in determining the team’s success tonight at Madison Square Garden.