LAS VEGAS (AP) — Gerard Gallant insisted over the first two months of the season that the Vegas Golden Knights would be fine once they found their rhythm and re-established the type of chemistry that led them to the Stanley Cup Final last season.
Apparently, Gallant knew what he was talking about.
Vegas has won a season-high four straight after trouncing the Blackhawks 8-3 on Tuesday night. The Golden Knights (13-12-1) are right back in the playoff race after sitting near the bottom of the Western Conference less than two weeks ago.
”It was a tough start and we were battling through it,” Gallant said this week. ”We had a terrific year last year. We had a short summer because we went to the Stanley Cup Final and … most of the time your team falls back a little bit. You’ve got to have patience with your team.”
Patience is something center Jonathan Marchessault said the 53-year-old soft-spoken coach has always had, from their time together in Florida and now in Las Vegas. Marchessault said Gallant’s top priority always has been to assure his players he has faith in them.
”That’s the culture he wants to bring; it’s kind of hard to believe, but he did stay the same,” Marchessault said. ”A lot of guys in his position, I think, would have been more impatient with the team, but he stuck with what he believes and right now we’re having a good stretch. He knew it was just a matter of time that we get started. And right now, we’re playing some good hockey.”
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has won his last five starts. After ranking near the bottom of the league with its offensive production, Vegas has won five of six by outscoring its opponents 25-8 in the victories.
The emergence of Alex Tuch, Cody Eakin and newcomer Max Pacioretty on the second line has bolstered the team’s offense. The biggest surprise has been Eakin, who had two goals and an assist in the victory over the Blackhawks.
Eakin has 10 goals and six assists in 23 games after he had 11 goals and 16 assists all of last season. The eighth-year pro said Gallant’s approach has helped his confidence, which is why he has been able to take advantage of his time on the second line while Erik Haula recovers from a lower-body injury.
”It’s important when you’re going through a tough little start to let the players kind of figure it out themselves instead of overcoaching,” Eakin said. ”It comes from the top, getting those opportunities and just taking it and skating with it. You have to just be confident in yourself to do it. When things are going good you want to kind of ride the wave.”
Gallant said the Knights have found the rhythm he was looking for since the start of the season, when they opened up with five of their first six and 11 of 18 on the road.
Most importantly, he said, is how well the Knights have played against the Pacific Division. Vegas has the best record among all eight teams, going 6-1-1 thus far, including Fleury’s back-to-back shutout wins over Calgary and San Jose last weekend.
”You look at our division, I don’t think it’s got off to a great start in our whole division, but I think there’s a lot of good teams there and I compare our team to the other teams and if we play the way we played this weekend, we’re right there,” Gallant said.