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Gallant blasts Golden Knights for ‘soft’ play

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The Vegas Golden Knights saw a 2-2 tie devolve into a 5-2 loss against the Arizona Coyotes, and coach Gerard Gallant was not happy on Tuesday.

After the loss, Gallant reportedly had a word with players in the locker room. When asked about the message he sent, Gallant told The Athletic’s Jesse Granger “none of your business” — before giving his team the business.

“It was a 2-2 game, and all of a sudden we try to get cute again and start making drop passes and passes through the slot,” Gallant said. “I didn’t like the way we played. There was no passion in our game. No aggressive forecheck. We played a soft game.”

*Shakes hand to signify a take that’s too hot to touch.*

If there are two things hockey coaches disdain, they are softness and cuteness. Care Bears be warned.

But Gallant likely knows that it’s foolish to get too high or too low from one loss, even if he legitimately sees a lack of passion in one of those 82 games.

Instead, it might be that Gallant is trying to wake his team up. The Golden Knights are pretty securely placed at third in the Pacific Division, as the Sharks and Flames are far too sturdy for them to pass them, while no one else is much of a threat to push Vegas into the wild-card ranks.

Complacency is a threat to any team through a grinding, marathon season, yet it’s an especially big worry when you don’t have a ton of movement.

(As an aside: it’s surreal that the Golden Knights are dealing with the plights of prosperity so early in their existence, isn’t it?)

When you look at recent developments, it’s easy to see why Gallant might be frustrated, if not outright concerned.

After rattling off a seven-game winning streak from late December to early January, the Golden Knights have gone 4-8-0, generating the third-worst record in the NHL since Jan. 10. They’ve generated fewer points than the struggling Oilers and Senators during that slump, only besting the truly moribund Avalanche and Ducks.

The wider signs aren’t all bad. They’re still outshooting their opponents by a considerable margin, and they’ve remained a stout possession team since the calendar hit 2019.

It makes sense that Gallant would like to keep his team awake, and not accept these defeats, even if there’s a “nature of the beast” element happening here. Gallant’s taken measures such as briefly moving Reilly Smith away from William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault, with the goal of sending wake-up calls.

A lot of what Gallant is doing carries logic, although he might want to heed an unspoken wake-up call of his own when it comes to the most important position in the sport.

With the Golden Knights wedged in that third spot without much room to move, Gallant should break with his bad habit of leaning heavily on his starter, in this case with 34-year-old Marc-Andre Fleury.

Fleury already came to Vegas with a ton of mileage, and his 50 games played leads the NHL by a three-game margin. While the Golden Knights play a sound enough game that he’s only faced the third-most shots in the league, one cannot disregard the total workload. Since memorably joining the Golden Knights, Fleury’s played in 96 regular-season games, plus that 20-game playoff run.

We’ve seen much younger goalies such as Braden Holtby and Andrei Vasilevskiy admit they’ve broken down under too many starts, and for all we know, many other goalies have been worn out but haven’t said so on the record.

As much as Gallant wants to make every game count, the bottom line is that the Golden Knights would almost certainly have a better chance at another magical playoff run with an energetic Fleury.

Gallant might not like it, but sometimes the “soft” way is the right way.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT Morning Skate: Gudas returns to Philly; living in McDavid’s shadow

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Radko Gudas wants to make a grand return to Philadelphia with his new team. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

Sean Couturier‘s line has been really strong for the Flyers, but how do they compare to Boston’s top line? (Broad Street Hockey)

• Devils veteran Andy Greene‘s season has been surprising so far. (All About the Jersey)

• Who is Sebastian Aho? (Cardiac Cane)

• It’s time for the Canadiens to sign Victor Mete to a long-term contract extension. (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

Jason Spezza has a soft spot for Don Cherry, but he understands Sportsnet’s decision to part ways with him. (Toronto Star)

• The next five games are really important for the Florida Panthers. (The Rat Trick)

Jared McCann has been a nice find for the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Pensburgh)

• Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton explains why his team made a certain schematic change. (NBC Sports Chicago)

• The Golden Knights are reportedly searching for a mobile defenseman. (Sinbin.Vegas)

• It’s taken some time, but Kevin Fiala is finally starting to fit in with the Wild. (Hockey Wilderness)

• What’s it like to live in Connor McDavid‘s shadow? Leon Draisaitl tells ESPN.com.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Kings bench Kovalchuk, GM refuses to say for how long

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Left wing Ilya Kovalchuk was a healthy scratch for the Los Angeles Kings in their 3-1 win over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night, and the team wouldn’t say how long he will be out of the lineup.

Sportsnet Canada reported before the game that the Kings informed Kovalchuk he is being benched for an extended period. General manager Rob Blake and coach Todd McLellan refused to say whether it was for one game only or longer.

The 36-year-old Russian had two goals and four assists in Los Angeles’ first four games but has only one goal and two assists in the past 13.

“He was a healthy scratch, but tomorrow is a new day,” McLellan said after the game. “He is on board and has opportunities to go back in.”

McLellan said he is treating Kovalchuk the same way he would other players who are struggling. The coach cited right wing Tyler Toffoli being a healthy scratch for a game two weeks ago and left wing Adrian Kempe also being scratched on Tuesday. Those two players, though, don’t have the star power or $18.75 million, three-year contract Kovalchuk does.

“If they had to come out and watch one, then so does he. We treat them the same,” McLellan said.

The Kings are tied with Minnesota and Ottawa for the fewest points in the NHL with 13 and are 2-6-1 in their last nine games.

Blake said he met with Kovalchuk before the game, but the decision to bench him was made by McLellan.

“We’re in last place, right? We changed a lot of lineups,” Blake said. “We’re trying to find combinations that work, try to score some goals.”

This is the second straight year that Kovalchuk has found himself in and out of the lineup, which team captain Anze Kopitar said was not what anyone envisioned.

“It’s not a great situation,” Kopitar said. “Kovy is a good guy. There’s nothing wrong with the attitude or anything. For whatever reason, it is not working on the ice.”

The Buzzer: Bruins blow big lead; Troubling Crosby report

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Uh oh

The Athletic’s Rob Rossi reports (sub required) that Sidney Crosby is considering undergoing surgery for a sports hernia, among other treatment options.

Rossi reports that Crosby recently aggravated the injury, but it was something that had been bothering throughout 2019-20. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ host of injuries explained why Crosby didn’t undergo a procedure sooner.

If Crosby undergoes such a surgery, Rossi explains that the typical recovery window is four-to-six weeks, although Crosby’s been told it may only sideline him for a month. There are other possibilities to try to avoid surgery, as Rossi outlines, although delaying the inevitable could lead to aggravating the issue again.

Personally, I’d bite the bullet and have Crosby go under the knife now, rather than risking losing him during an even more important time of the year. We’ll see how it goes, whether Crosby opts for surgery or tries alternate options. It doesn’t seem like the rosiest update overall, though.

Three Stars

1. Andrew Werner, Colorado Avalanche

This post goes into greater detail, but in short, Werner made his NHL debut after Pavel Francouz was injured seconds into Tuesday’s game against the Jets. Not only did the 22-year-old Werner win for Colorado, he also stopped all 40 of Winnipeg’s shots on goal.

Technically, Werner won’t get a shutout, as Francouz started the contest and played for about one minute. It was a functional shutout in every other way, though — Werner even stopped all eight of Patrik Laine‘s shots on goal — so he nabs the top star of Tuesday.

2. Nathan MacKinnonalso of the Colorado Avalanche

… Unless you think his teammate is more deserving.

With Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog still on the shelf, MacKinnon showed that he can still generate high-level offense, as he factored into all four Avalanche goals (2G, 2A).

It’s been a little all-or-nothing for MacKinnon lately. Along with Tuesday’s four points, he also generated a four-point game (1G, 3A) on Nov. 7. Yet, in three of his five most recent games, MacKinnon was held pointless. Eight points in five games still rocks, mind you, but maybe that feast-or-famine pattern shows where MacKinnon might miss his partners in crime.

Either way, it’s been a superstar-status-affirming start to 2019-20, as MacKinnon has 11 goals and 26 points in 18 games.

3. Keith Yandle, Florida Panthers

The Panthers missed out on a Mike Hoffman power-play opportunity when the lights went out temporarily in Boston, and to make matters worse, were behind 4-0 during the third period. Instead of folding, Florida scored four goals during that third period, then beat the Bruins 5-4 via a shootout.

Yandle played a big role in that rally (1G, 2A). The high-scoring defenseman collected primary assists on two Panthers goals, and also scored the goal that sent the game to overtime.

There were other players who generated three points on Tuesday, including Yandle’s teammate, Jonathan Huberdeau. The importance of Yandle’s goal, or primary nature of Yandle’s assists, made his night stand out, though. (Huberdeau’s assists were secondary, and Tanner Pearson‘s goal was an empty-netter, as two examples. Oh, and Huberdeau is now tied for first in Panthers history with 249 assists, alongside Stephen Weiss.)

Highlight of the Night

Brendan Lemieux‘s tremendous pass + Kaapo Kakko‘s great move to finish things off for a goal already received plenty of attention, but sorry, it’s the clip of the night.

Factoids

  • Tuesday marked just the third time in Bruins history where an opponent tied the game after Boston carried a four-goal lead into the third period, via Mike Biergard of the NHL. The Bruins lost 7-6 in OT to the Maple Leafs in 1989, and won 5-4 against the Kings in 1981.
  • From the Panthers’ perspective:

  • Erik Karlsson was another player who authored a three-point game, generating three assists as San Jose beat Edmonton. That’s his 37th three-point game, the most of any defenseman since Karlsson entered the league in 2019-20, via NHL PR.
  • One more from NHL PR: Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar joins Larry Murphy (Kings, 1980-81) as the only two rookie defensemen to generate at least one point in 14 of their first 18 regular season games.

Scores

FLA 5 – BOS 4 (SO)
MTL 3 – CBJ 2 (SO)
NYR 3 – PIT 2 (OT)
ARI 3 – STL 2 (SO)
COL 4 – WPG 0
VAN 5 – NSH 3
DET 4 – ANA 3 (OT)
LAK 3 – MIN 1
SJS 6 – EDM 3

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Oilers were not happy with Hertl’s hit on McDavid

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Even in late 2019, it’s a little bit odd to see Brandon Manning stand up for Connor McDavid. You know, after that.

The two have been Edmonton Oilers teammates for a while now, and Manning did just that on Tuesday, dropping the gloves with Barclay Goodrow of the San Jose Sharks after Tomas Hertl delivered a controversial neutral zone hit on McDavid.

You can watch Hertl’s hit, McDavid’s reaction, and the ensuing fight in the video above this post’s headline.

The early signs are that McDavid avoided an injury (at least one significant enough to make him miss immediate action), as he finished the game. McDavid logged four third-period shifts after that incident in the second period, so that’s a decent sign that the Oilers my have avoided the bullet of a lower-body injury.

Then again, he seemingly left in a hurry after the Sharks beat the Oilers 6-3, so we’ll see.

What do you think of Hertl’s hit, though? For what it’s worth, Hertl received a minor penalty for interference on the play.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.