Right before the national anthems at every Golden Knights home game, the public address announcer introduces Vegas’ starting lineup to the crowd. If you didn’t know better, you’d probably expect to hear names like Jack Eichel, Mark Stone, or William Karlsson. But, instead, almost every night it’s Nic Roy, William Carrier, and Keegan Kolesar.
Throughout his time behind the Vegas bench, Bruce Cassidy has always preferred to start his fourth line. He says it’s to “set the tone” or “get the team playing the right way” and while those cliches are all good and well, what he really means is he wants a simple start that will keep anything crazy from happening.
The Golden Knights’ 4th line plays a very elementary style of hockey. Get the puck, gain the center red line, send it to the back glass, and then go hit people until they get it back. There’s nothing flashy about it, and most of the time it doesn’t generate much offensively. What it also doesn’t do though is allow the other team much of anything. If Vegas wins the draw, there’s a really good chance it’ll be 200 feet away from the Golden Knights’ goal in seconds. If they lose it, the trio of Roy, Carrier, and Kolesar are excellent at locking down the neutral zone and forcing a dump-in the other way. Again, nothing flashy, and likely nothing really happening.
It’s been successful against pretty much every team in the NHL this season, and it’s a strategy that’s not new to Cassidy. Both Pete DeBoer and Gerard Gallant liked to deploy the fourth line to open games as well.
However, the Edmonton Oilers offer something much different than every other team in the league. Not only do the Oilers have the best player in the game, they also have arguably the second-best player, and to start games and periods, they often send them both out together.
They feel they have an advantage putting Draisaitl and McDavid together, and they’re right, they are two of the best players in the world and they are dynamic, so I get it. But we have to try and counter it the best way possible. -Bruce Cassidy
At face value, it feels incredibly risky to forego the chance to put Eichel, Karlsson, or Stone on the ice against Edmonton’s big two in favor of the 4th line, but Cassidy chose to do it not just once to start the game, but twice, to start the 2nd period as well.
I don’t mind that matchup. I’m not going to do it for 15 minutes a night, I think that’s too much to ask of any one person. That’s why we’ll share it because it is a demanding job. -Cassidy
A huge part of the reasoning for it is familiarity.
If they’re going to load up that first line, I’m comfortable with all of our centers going against it. The fourth line is used to that situation so if they can be neutral against them we feel our next three lines coming over the boards will have an advantage. Whether that’s right or wrong or if it plays out, we’ll see. It did last night (in Game 1). -Cassidy
On the opening shift of the game, VGK’s fourth line won the faceoff against Draisaitl (who was out there without McDavid) and played 40 seconds of completely eventless hockey. No shots, no hits, no giveaways, no stoppages, nothing. For Vegas, that’s a win.
It shows so much confidence in our group and all we really have to do is show some energy, and maybe throw a couple of hits. It’s fun. -Nic Roy
Start-of-period shifts may appear to be the same as any other shift in the game, but they’re not. Think about how you feel with the ball teed up on the first hole of a golf course, the first day on a new job, or even something as simple as the first time you sit in the driver’s seat of a new car. There are some jitters, some nerves, it just feels a little bit different.
For the Golden Knights, they have a group perfectly ready for that situation because they’ve been in it tons of times before.
Typically guys are a little more aggressive to start a period so the pressure comes at you much quicker. -Roy
To start the 2nd period, Roy and the fourth line lost the draw, this time with McDavid and Draisaitl on the ice together. However, Kolesar quickly threw a hit, they blocked a shot, and eventually worked the puck in deep to the other side of the ice before changing for Chandler Stephenson, Mark Stone, and Brett Howden.
Winning these matchups will continue to be paramount for the Golden Knights going forward.
So far, Vegas seems to have the answer, stick with what’s been working all season long.
Until we can’t that’s probably how we’re going to look at it. -Cassidy
It’s 40 seconds at the start of a 1,200-second period but getting off the ice with McDavid and Draisaitl doing nothing is very much something for the Golden Knights.