Last night was an eye-opener for the 2018-19 Golden Knights. After a tough loss against the Arizona Coyotes, the fourth straight at home, Gerard Gallant delivered a strong message in the locker room following the game. The team followed it up with a lengthy, competitive practice on Friday and then went without morning skate on Saturday. It appeared they had hit rock bottom and appeared primed to start the turnaround.
Last year’s team had its moments too, but every time they would come back, play great, and win. This team didn’t.
Instead, this team got outmanned in a game they simply came up short in the talent department. The foursome of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, William Nyander, and Mitch Marner scored three goals and tallied seven points while the entire Golden Knights top six (Karlsson, Marchessault, Smith, Stastny, Tuch, and Pacioretty) had two goals and four points with half of that damage coming on a shorthanded goal.
The VGK 2nd line was a combined -8 and the 1st line put up a miserable 25% Corsi For percentage as a group. Matthews’ line ate up Stastny, Pacioretty and Tuch scoring twice and posting seven scoring chances to Vegas’ one. All in all the Golden Knights top six played 20 of the 36 minutes of even strength action and accounted for one goal while allowing three and created just seven scoring chances compared to Toronto’s 17 while they were on the ice.
Here’s the good news. Despite all of it, and while playing the worst hockey in franchise history, the Golden Knights were right there. They had a lead in the 2nd, tied the game in the 3rd, and had a power play chance to take the lead inside of 15 minutes remaining in the game. This is still the same team that posted 60 points in their first 48 games and positioned themselves safely in the playoff picture.
With just four games before the trade deadline, it’s time the Golden Knights look in the mirror and realize they have to win with balance. No longer is their first line so dominant that they can be relied upon to not only shut down the oppositions top line but score while they’re at it. They can’t expect their 2nd line to pick up the slack left behind by the inevitable regression of that 1st line. They need to return to what became their identity last year and what was at times earlier this season. A balanced attack that never stops applying pressure.
The best way to do that, break up the top six.
It doesn’t have to be major. I’m talking about moving one guy from each line and replacing him with pieces that have shown to work. Move Smith and Pacioretty down or move Marchessault and Tuch down and replace them with Brandon Pirri and Valentin Zykov. Or, swap the centers around. Here just three options, but there are plenty of others, and there’s a ton of time to figure it out.
It has a chance to look even better if you add a Mark Stone, Gustav Nyquist, or Marcus Johansson too.
But aside from balancing the scoring, it mitigates some of the pressure that’s placed on the current top six to not only score but slow down the opponents best. Instead, this balance will allow the Golden Knights to go back to the free-flowing “roll four lines” technique they used early last season. In any of those nine proposed lines above, there’s not a group that’s head and shoulders above offensively or defensively. It’s fairly balanced and if they are rolling, will be a nightmare to play against.
It might work. It might not. But hey, it can’t be much worse than what’s happening recently… right?