Update: Well, the Golden Knights might try to get more from their depth players and make some changes, but Tomas Tatar might not be a part of that.
NHL.com’s Nick Cotsonika notes that today’s skate indicates that Tatar and Tomas Nosek might be healthy scratches. In that event, Ryan Carpenter and Oscar Lindberg would take their places.
Much of the discussion below remains, and the Golden Knights have plenty of incentive to get more out of Tatar going forward. Maybe another trip to the press box could be a bit of “tough love” for Tatar?
Look, every NHL team is going to lack something, especially in this salary cap era. Daydreaming about improved depth is a pretty common occurrence for just about every squad in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Such matters are worth delving into because a) it’s possible that some teams could stumble upon solutions better than others and b) such studies sometimes shine a light on other things that work or fall short for a team.
The Vegas Golden Knights stand an interesting example.
[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]
On one hand, they’ve developed a reputation for “rolling four lines” and for succeeding thanks to a by-committee approach, including on defense. At their best, the Golden Knights make their opponents feel overwhelmed by waves of attackers.
Is it possible that the San Jose Sharks have exposed a few cracks in that wall, or are merely better equipped to reveal that the Golden Knights might have some depth issues, too? Such questions might receive more clarity as this series goes along (Game 5 airs on NBCSN tonight at 10 p.m. ET), but in perusing the stats from San Jose’s 4-0 shutout in Game 4, some things stand out.
- Vegas’ top line had its chances.
Opinions may vary, but while the points have come and gone, the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs make a strong argument that the top line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith really is a legitimate top line. Sometimes it’s a dominant one.
While Vegas was blanked, that trio generated 11 of the Golden Knights’ 34 shots on goal. None of them suffered negative plus/minuses in a 4-0 loss, either.
- James Neal is keyed-in, too.
Neal remains an intriguing UFA (if he doesn’t re-sign with Vegas) because he’s one of the NHL’s most reliable snipers (25 goals despite being limited to 71 games in 2017-18) while combining a mean streak with the sort of frame that can help him get to those “dirty goal” areas. At his best, he can be a headache for defenses to deal with.
It seems like he’s asserting himself against the beefy Sharks, too. While he suffered a -2 rating, Neal fired a lofty seven shots on goal during Game 4. He has one goal and three assists along with 19 SOG in four games so far in this series.
So, theoretically, the Golden Knights are in a nice spot with the first line and with Neal playing at a high level alongside Erik Haula and Alex Tuch. With that in mind, waking up their bottom-six forwards could be key.
- Can David Perron kickstart Tomas Tatar?
It’s reasonable to wonder if Perron is truly healthy. If not, he should be commended for producing three assists so far in four games against the Sharks. Like Neal, he’s an intriguing pending UFA; Perron scored 66 points in just 70 games this season. He could be the key to getting more out of depth players, or if Gerard Gallant deems it necessary, making a more dangerous second line.
This brings us to Tatar, who seems to be slated for third-line duty with Perron and Cody Eakin.
To say the least, Tatar has been a disappointment since being traded to Vegas, even for those who thought that the Golden Knights gave up far too much for the former Red Wings winger to begin with.
Through 20 regular-season games, Tatar only managed four goals and two assists for six points. He’s been a non-factor during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, at least when he’s avoided being a healthy scratch altogether, failing to score a point and only managing four SOG in four games. His ice time is also a testament to how little confidence the Golden Knights have in him so far.
With just seven points in 21 career playoff games, some might wonder if Tatar simply wilts during this time of year.
That’s a lot of doom and gloom, but let’s not forget that Tatar is riding four consecutive 20+ goal seasons. He may never be worth the three significant draft picks Vegas gave up to get him, but Tatar is legitimately capable of catching fire and moving the needle in this series. Just look at what he can do when things are clicking:
Now, could Perron bring that out of him? Would a move up the lineup provide a crucial confidence boost? Maybe he deserves a little power play time after getting none in Game 4?
One of the things that makes Vegas such a great story is all of the opportunities that came here that may have never emerged for guys like William Karlsson, Shea Theodore, and Alex Tuch. Extending that spirit by at least letting Tatar get one foot out of the doghouse could, for all we know, be enough to light a fire under the solid scorer.
- What about the fourth line?
On paper, the Golden Knights’ fourth line (William Carrier, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Tomas Nosek) leaves something to be desired. Bellemare’s possession stats are a microcosm of that group’s overall limitations.
Sometimes you’re just stuck with a limited fourth line, but Gallant should at least consider bringing Ryan Carpenter back and giving Oscar Lindberg a few looks. Lindberg hasn’t played since April 7, so obviously he’s not held in high regard right now, but the former Rangers forward does have some playoff experience (four points in 14 games) and would probably work hard to prove that he deserves to stay in the lineup.
Again, every team would like more depth (or, the deep ones might want some more high-end skill). To some extent, you sometimes need to just appreciate the smaller battles a line can win.
On the other hand, sometimes winning a tough playoff series comes down to making adjustments and finding new combinations. The Golden Knights are experiencing a real challenge in the Sharks. For all we know, a reinvigorated Tatar could tilt the scales in their favor.
Check out Game 5 tonight starting at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. This is the livestream link.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.