WASHINGTON — After losing the past two games of the Stanley Cup Final and facing a huge Game 4 Monday night, the Vegas Golden Knights are making at least one lineup change as Tomas Tatar will draw back in after being a healthy scratch for the past five games.
Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant refused to announce who was coming out of the lineup in place of Tatar, but the easy speculation here is David Perron, whose locker stall was empty following the morning skate.
Gallant also suggested there could be one other addition into the lineup but again refused to say who that could potentially involve.
“He’s a goal-scorer,” said Gallant when asked about the decision to put Tatar back in the lineup. “We wanted to change our lineup a little bit after losing two games a in a row and give us a little more offense.
“He brings offense, he can shoot a puck, he is good for our power play, he is going to play his game and play it the way we play our systems.”
Tatar said he was informed that he would be entering the lineup on Sunday night.
“It’s not always easy to jump in the lineup, but that’s what everybody waits for,” said Tatar. “That is what I’ve been waiting for. To get that chance. That chance came.”
Tatar was Vegas’ big trade deadline addition after getting him from the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for three draft picks. A lock for at least 20 goals since he has been a full-time player NHLer, he was expected to add a little more offense to a lineup that was already one of the higher scoring teams in the league. It has not always worked out that way and has resulted in him spending most of the playoffs as a healthy scratch. In the Western Conference Final, he drew back into the lineup in Game 2 against the Winnipeg Jets after sitting out three games and immediately made an impact by scoring the opening goal, helping the Golden Knights even the series on their way to winning four in a row to eliminate the Jets.
“It’s not easy to come into a group that’s already somehow — even if you are a young group, you are really solidified quite quick,” said Golden Knights forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.
“He came in, and he had a chance to play right away, and then he didn’t play and he just kept working. Great attitude to help us when we were in tough, in the locker room, behind the scene. I always like him in the lineup. It’s always fun. He did it against Winnipeg and he helped us big time so it’s always fun to see a guy who is patient, keeps working and then suddenly it pays off.”
Gallant echoed Bellemare’s sentiments when it comes to Tatar’s attitude and how he has handled being a scratch, a role he has not been accustomed to throughout his NHL career.
“He’s been very positive, unless he’s saying something different to somebody else he’s been A-1 positive with our group of guys,” said Gallant. “The guys respond to it. Is it a tough situation? It definitely is. He’s a first class guy, I know that he wants to play, obviously he is a veteran guy, but when a coach puts a lineup in we are putting the best lineup we think is available for that series or that game and that’s what you do. You are trying to win every game.”
“There’s no egos,” Gallant added when asked about how players have been able to go in and out of the lineup all season for his team. “I don’t expect guys to be happy when they are sitting out, but it’s part of the NHL, it’s part of our game. We’re having a chance to win the Stanley Cup. We’ve had a great run here. As coaches we do the best we can. Are the decisions always right? No, they are not, but we do the best we can to try to win.”
Perron, again, is the obvious call to come out of the lineup given his production in the playoffs. In 14 games this postseason he has yet to score a goal (he does have eight assists) and has managed just 12 shots on goal. He has failed to record a shot on goal in the past two games — both games Vegas dropped in the series so far — and had a particularly tough game on Saturday night having been on the ice for all three Capitals goals.
He has failed to record a shot on goal or a point in four of the past six games.
The Golden Knights desperately need some depth scoring from their second and third lines in this series and just as they talked about before Game 3 have to cut down on the turnovers that the Capitals have been able to turn into offense.
“Just from watching we have to get back on our game, put pucks deep,” said Tatar. “Washington is capitalizing on our turnovers right now so we know we have to put it deep, have a good forecheck.
“It’s the playoffs, every game is big, so I’m trying to put aside what the series is now and we are just going to go from game-to-game.”
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub