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Tomas Tatar replaces David Perron in Golden Knights lineup for Game 2

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After dropping Game 1 of the Western Conference Final the Vegas Golden Knights will have a slightly different look to their lineup in Game 2 on Monday night.

Tomas Tatar and Tomas Nosek will draw into the lineup in place of David Perron and Oscar Lindberg.

The Tatar for Perron swap here is the big one, and could be the result of a collision with teammate James Neal in the Game 1 loss.

Perron had a great regular season for the Golden Knights, scoring 16 goals to go with 50 assists in 70 regular season games. He has yet to score a goal in the playoffs, but does has seven assists in nine games.

The Golden Knights acquired Tatar from the Detroit Red Wings at the trade deadline and paid a heavy price in terms of draft picks (a first-round pick in 2018, a second-round pick in 2019, and a third-round pick in 2021), but he has yet to fit in the way the Golden Knights had hoped. He has only played in four playoff games and since coming over in the trade has four goals and two assists in 24 games.

He has scored at least 20 goals in each of the past four seasons and is in the first year of a four-year contract that will pay him $5.3 million per season for another three years.

MORE:
• 
Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• 
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Can Golden Knights get more out of Tatar, supporting cast?

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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.

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.

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 phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT Morning Skate: Jagr’s not done; 10 storylines heading into playoffs

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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.

• After going through some struggles during the regular season, Blue Jackets forward Brandon Dubinsky is looking forward to getting a fresh start in the playoffs. (Columbus Dispatch)

• Stanley Cup of Chowder looks at four reasons why the Bruins should be feeling optimistic heading into the postseason. (Stanley Cup of Chowder)

Stanley Cup Playoffs streaming, schedule and more

• The New Jersey Devils had to go through five years worth of struggles before getting back to the playoffs. Here’s a look back at everything they went through leading up to this point. (All About the Jersey)

• The Leafs and Jets are the only Canadian teams to make it to this year’s playoffs, but is either one of them really Canada’s team? (Pension Plan Puppets)

• Special teams, goaltending and depth will all play a factor in the series between the Flyers and Penguins. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

• The Golden Knights have one opening up front for four players. Who will head coach Gerard Gallant use for Game 1 against the Kings? He’ll have to chose between Ryan Reaves, Oscar Lindberg, William Carrier and Ryan Carpenter. (Sinbin.Vegas)

Connor Hellebuyck‘s 44 wins proved to be a record for an American goaltender playing in the NHL. (Jets Nation)

• Craig Morgan breaks down 10 intriguing story lines heading into the playoffs, including whether or not the Pens have another cup run in them. (FanRag Sports)

• The Arizona Coyotes have three players from Saskatchewan. So Friday’s bus accident that took the lives of 15 junior hockey players and staff in the province really hit close to home for Luke Schenn, Josh Archibald and Darcy Kuemper. (AZ Central)

• Even though he was waived by the Flames and was forced to continue his career in Europe, Jaromir Jagr hasn’t thrown in the towel on playing in the NHL next season. (New York Times)

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.

WATCH LIVE: Golden Knights vs. Kings on NBCSN

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WATCH THE GAME LIVE

PROJECTED LINES

Vegas Golden Knights

Forwards

David PerronErik HaulaJames Neal

Reilly SmithJonathan MarchessaultWilliam Karlsson

Brendan LeipsicCody EakinAlex Tuch

Oscar LindbergPierre-Edouard BellemareTomas Nosek

Defense

Brayden McNabbNate Schmidt

Deryk EngellandShea Theodore

Jon MerrillColin Miller

Starting goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury

NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Bruins vs. Capitals; Golden Knights vs. Kings

Los Angeles Kings

Forwards

Tanner PearsonAnze KopitarDustin Brown

Alex IafalloAdrian KempeTyler Toffoli

Marian GaborikNick ShoreTrevor Lewis

Andy AndreoffTorrey MitchellJonny Brodzinski

Defense

Jake MuzzinDrew Doughty

Kurtis MacDermidAlec Martinez

Derek Forbort — Kevin Gravel

Starting goalie: Jonathan Quick

Vegas Golden Knights hand out rare lengthy contract

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Early in the Vegas Golden Knights’ ongoing, still-surprising hot start as a franchise, PHT noted one thing that’s unlikely to change this season: motivation.

NHL players are already generally a motivated lot, but when you put financial futures on the line, you’ll often see a surge in results. Take a look at the Golden Knights’ Cap Friendly page and you’ll see a ton of players with one or two years remaining on their current contracts. Greed can be good, at least in the short term, for a sports team’s fortunes.

While the franchise would likely draw the most attention for high-scoring, pending UFAs like James Neal and Jonathan Marchessault, there’s a particularly noticeable glut of defensemen on one-year deals.

That group got a little smaller on Wednesday, as the Golden Knights announced a four-year, $10 million extension for former Kings blueliner Brayden McNabb.

From here, it seems like a fairly benign move.

It’s worth noting that the move draws at least a little bit of mockery on Hockey Twitter.

McNabb, 26, is averaging 19:30 TOI per night through his first 20 regular-season games with the Golden Knights. Peeking at his Hockey Reference page’s quick possession stats, it’s interesting to note an unusual disparity in his Corsi Relative (-.5) versus Fenwick Relative (+3.6) rates compared to his teammates.

It turns out that he’s been blocking buckets of shots so far this season, leading the Golden Knights in that category. Fenwick is a Corsi-like measure except with blocked shots removed from the equation, so perhaps some of a person’s view of McNabb comes down to subtle preferences.

(He’s tied for 12th overall in the NHL in blocked shots, despite missing a few games, by the way.)

Really, if the Golden Knights’ rationale is “well, this makes Gerard Gallant happy,” then it seems like a reasonable move.

Beyond McNabb, Vegas only has Nate Schmidt and Brad Hunt under contracts beyond this season, and both of their deals expire after 2018-19. If you want to be cute about it, you could call McNabb “the defenseman of the future” in Vegas, at least right now.

Discounting David Clarkson‘s dead cap money (which expires after 2019-20), the Golden Knights also have these forwards and goalies locked up for at least two seasons, ignoring players in their farm system for the sake of simplicity:

Forwards

Goalies

You can look at that list a number of ways, including from two very different perspectives. Optimists will note how clean that cap is, with few deals threatening “albatross” status (beyond Clarkson’s, which the Golden Knights are essentially laundering for a fee). On the other hand, anxious types will worry about all the potential mistakes that could be made, including letting the wrong players go and/or retaining players who are playing over their heads.

Overall, this is another reminder that GM George McPhee has generally done a great job of accumulating assets while avoiding the sort of attachments that can submarine a franchise. Even if McNabb ends up being a bland bottom-pairing guy, this deal really isn’t that bad; the term would be the main issue if he really flops.

Of course, this is a mere appetizer for future decisions. Will GMGM ultimately keep or sell guys like Neal, Marchessault, David Perron, and William Karlsson? Finding out those answers should be almost as fun as observing this Cinderella story in action.

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.