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Reaves sits as Golden Knights tweak Game 5 lineup (Update)

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Update: The rumblings appear to be true. With Vegas’ season on the line, Gerard Gallant decided to add David Perron and William Carries back into the mix. Ryan Reaves and Ryan Carpenter, meanwhile, are healthy scratches.

Will the moves pay off? Click here for the livestream.

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For the first time this postseason the Vegas Golden Knights are facing elimination when they enter Game 5 against the Washington Capitals on Thursday night.

For the second game in a row they could be making some changes to their lineup in an effort to change the momentum of the series.

In Game 4 they swapped David Perron for Tomas Tatar, a move that did not really produce the desired results.

Even though coach Gerard Gallant refused to announce or confirm any changes for Game 5 on Thursday, speculation seems to be, based on who did and did not take part in the optional morning skate, that Perron and William Carrier could be back in the lineup in place of Ryan Carpenter and Ryan Reaves.

[Related: Golden Knights could really use one of their fast starts for Game 5]

Both potential moves would be … let’s just say interesting.

Carrier has not played since Game 5 of the second round series against the San Jose Sharks and was playing less than nine minutes per night when he was in the lineup. There probably isn’t much of a difference between him and Reaves on the fourth line, so it would be kind of odd to put him back in at this point. What would be especially bizarre about that switch is the fourth line of Tomas Nosek, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, and Reaves has, quite surprisingly, been one of the Golden Knights’ better lines recently.

Then again, if your fourth line is playing better than your first three lines it probably is not a good thing.

Perron, meanwhile, is still searching for his first goal of the playoffs after finishing the regular season with 16 goals and 66 total points in 70 games. In his two games before being scratched for Game 4 on Monday he had failed to record a shot on goal and was a minus-3 in the Golden Knights’ Game 3 loss. In his past six games he has just a single point (an assist) and only four shots on goal. In four of those six games he has not recorded a single shot on goal.

We will not know for sure what Vegas has planned until game-time.

When their team has lost three games in a row, has scored only five goals (while giving up 12), and is facing elimination in the Stanley Cup Final most coaches will feel the need to do something to try and shake things up and find a spark. Maybe Gallant will find something here.

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Guide
• Stanley Cup Final schedule

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.

Golden Knights don’t need to worry about Marchessault

While the scale of concern sometimes feels as overblown as the Vegas Golden Knights’ vaunted pre-game presentation (they are only down 2-1), it’s true that the Washington Capitals gave the upstart expansion team a lot to worry about from Games 3 to 4.

Unlike their Western Conference opponents and just about everyone Vegas faced during the regular season, the Capitals found a way to clog up the Golden Knights’ exhilarating transition game. For all the jokes about Vegas “finally becoming an expansion team,” the real worry is that they looked, almost … flat and boring.

The Golden Knights also saw poor work from their second line, to the point that Gerard Gallant is subbing in Tomas Tatar for David Perron heading into Monday’s key Game 4 on NBC.

[Here’s the livestream link for Game 4. You can also enjoy “NHL Live” before the contest here.]

People might also be worried about the play of Vegas’ first line for the first time during this magical run.

After shockingly keeping pace – and in plenty of cases, getting the better of – the likes of Anze Kopitar, Joe Pavelski, and the Winnipeg Jets’ frightening high-end players, the trio of Reilly Smith, William Karlsson, and Jonathan Marchessault is sputtering a bit against the Caps.

Take Marchessault, for instance. Overall, he has a star-status-affirming 19 points in 18 postseason games, but lately things have dried up. The undersized, undrafted, indefatigable forward has only managed a single assist over the past four games, three of which came against Washington.

Does that mean it’s time to say that the pixie dust has worn off? Maybe for some elements of this team, but don’t blame Marchessault. And the Golden Knights shouldn’t worry about him.

For one thing, he’s putting up the sort of volume of shots that would indicate that he’s “due” for some positive bounces, and maybe those good breaks will come as early as tonight.

Despite coming up with zero goals (but two assists) over the past five games, Marchessault generated a whopping 28 shots on goal. That’s Alex Ovechkin-level trigger-happiness.

Did you yawn at those numbers and that chart (how dare you)?

Well, just consider the sports-car-swagger it takes to make a move like this, which was foiled only thanks to a great save by Braden Holtby:

No one wants to hear this, but in the modern NHL, just about every scorer is going to be doomed by poor luck. Or a keyed-in goalie. Or hitting a litany of posts.

It’s only human to get frustrated, and surely Marchessault must be feeling that a bit. Especially since he’s rarely struggled since the Florida Panthers made the Internet-entertaining gaffe of including him with Reilly Smith during the expansion draft.

The concern would be if Marchessault started getting in his own head too much. If the shot totals and highlight clips are any indication, it seems like he’s plugging away admirably.

Now, sure, it wouldn’t hurt if Vegas found a way to reinvigorate their flow to the speedy, exciting levels they’re used to. Such tweaks would help diversify their attack and take a little bit of the burden off of that top line. It also wouldn’t hurt if Reilly Smith has a rebound contest after an up-and-down Game 3 of penalties and mistakes, and if William Karlsson could get a bit more involved in the attack. Both of those scenarios seem reasonable, and maybe likely.

After praising the hardhat work of the fourth line (Pierre-Edouard Bellmare, Tomas Nosek, and Ryan Reaves), Gallant stated that he wanted his top trio to channel energy from the regular season.

“To a point yeah for sure, Belly and those guys play straight line, they work hard, they contain pucks down low and the way they have been successful in this series has been outstanding,” Gallant said. “Do I want Marchy and them playing like Bellemare? No I don’t. I love Belly, he does his job the way he does it, but our first line has to play the way they have played all season long.”

Even with Barry Trotz’s defensive tactics gumming up the works, Marchessault has been the most consistent source of scoring chances for Vegas.

To some, such work might only count under “moral victories,” but Marchessault and his partners would be better off ignoring the noise and keep doing what they’ve been doing. The goals should come … although as Ovechkin can attest, playoff success can be a fickle beast.

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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.

Four interesting stats ahead of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final

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1. Evgeny Kuznetsov is on a roll. Alex Ovechkin is the superstar in Washington but let’s not overlook what Evgeny Kuznetsov has been doing for the Capitals this postseason, and especially lately. Entering Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night Kuznetsov is riding an 11-game point streak and is the NHL’s leading scorer this postseason with 25 points in 20 games.

That is also one of the most productive individual performances in recent postseason history.

Over the past 25 years there have been more than 450 players to play in at least 20 games in a single postseason. Out of that group Kuznetsov’s 1.25 point per game average is the 12th highest.

Since the 2000 only nine different players have recorded more than 26 points in a single playoff run. Given the way he has been going for the Capitals recently he seems destined to join that group.

2. The Capitals better win tonight. At the very least it would be in their best interest to win because If they do not history is not on their side.

As noted by Sean Leahy this afternoon, teams that grab a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final are 46-5 when it comes to going on to winning it all. Teams that win the first two games on home ice 36-3.

The most recent team to overcome such a deficit was the 2010-11 Boston Bruins who lost the first two games in Vancouver and then won four of the next five.

The 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins also did it after losing the first two games of that series in Detroit against the Red Wings.

3. Vegas’ fourth line truly was dominant in Game 1. This was perhaps the most stunning development in the first game of this series. All postseason, and especially in recent games, Vegas’ offense has been carried by the play of its dynamic top line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith. As expected, they were also productive in Vegas’ 6-4 Game 1 win. But it was the performance of the fourth line that really stood out. Not only did they score the game-tying goal in the third period, quickly answering a Tom Wilson go-ahead goal on a controversial play that saw goal-scorer Ryan Reaves cross-check John Carlson out of the way, but they absolutely dominated possession when they were on the ice. The trio of Reaves, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Tomas Nosek were all better than 70 percent in the shot attempts department as individuals. When all three were on the ice together Vegas out-attempted the Capitals by an 18-5 margin and outscored them by a 2-0 margin. They did all of that in just 8:40 of ice-time.

Over the past two games the trio is 25-9 in the shot attempts department and 3-0 on the scoreboard. You get that sort of play from your fourth line, good things are going to happen for your team.

The big question is whether or not they are capable of doing it again, or if the past two games — and especially the most recent games — were just well-timed outliers.

(Data via Natural Stat Trick)

4. Bounceback game for the goalies? Perhaps the most frustrating thing for the Capitals in Game 1 was that they were actually able to get to Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, scoring four goals on 28 shots.

This is nothing new for the Capitals. In their two previous playoff matchups against Fleury they scored more than enough goals against him to win only to end up losing because they could not stop anybody. The exact same storyline played out on Monday.

The concern for the Capitals is that Fleury has not really had consecutive bad games this postseason. Game 1 was the fourth time this postseason that Fleury has allowed at least four goals in a playoff game. In the previous three he came back the next game and won each of them with a combined save percentage of .932.

On the other side, Braden Holtby‘s Game 1 performance was one of his worst of the playoffs — and one of the worst of his career — stopping only 28 of the 33 shots he has faced.

Trouble here is that Holtby has been extremely hot-and-cold over the past seven games. He came through in a big way in Games 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference Final to record back-to-back shutouts (his first two shutouts of the entire 2017-18 season). But in the other five games he is only 1-4 and had a save percentage above .864 only once.

They need the great Holtby in Game 2.

MORE:
• 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.

PHT’s Three Stars: Golden Game 1 for Vegas

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1st Star: Reilly Smith, Vegas Golden Knights

Yes, Vegas enjoyed better contributions from its supporting scorers in Game 1 (see the second star), but the top line of Smith, Jonathan Marchessault, and William Karlsson still flexed their muscles to help the Golden Knights beat the Washington Capitals 6-4.

Smith was credited with the primary assist on Karlsson’s 2-2 goal, which was crucial as the Capitals generated two goals during a 42-second span and could have conceivably introduced some doubt into Vegas’ mind if that lead persisted into the first intermission. Instead, it was tied up with less than two minutes remaining in the opening frame.

After that, Smith gave the Golden Knights a brief 3-2 lead by beating Braden Holtby on a top-corner finish.

The beauty of this Game 1 win is that there were multiple Golden Knights conceivably in the running here. Do note that, while most of the goals weren’t their fault, neither goalie came close to making the top three.

2nd Star: Tomas Nosek, Golden Knights

Allow this spot to also serve as Deryk Engelland‘s mention, as the defenseman nabbed two assists (one primary, one secondary) while firing five shots on goal and logging 20:50 TOI. His transformation from borderline enforcer to legitimate NHL defenseman remains stunning.

Nosek gets the nod, however, because he scored two goals; he isn’t the first star because his second tally was shorthanded. He generated a +3 rating despite a scant 12:22 TOI.

(So maybe Engelland does deserve that spot? Let’s just cheat here. Don’t tell anyone.)

3rd Star: T.J. Oshie, Washington Capitals

While Nosek scored on an empty net for his second goal, Shea Theodore also deserves the credit for that game-winner.

In honor of the night’s best passers, let’s consider Oshie. He generated two assists, including a ludicrous helper that allowed John Carlson to score on a near-empty net. If not for Theodore, it would have been the best assist of a Game 1 that was full of beautiful passes.

Oshie also generated the primary assist on Nicklas Backstrom‘s 2-1 goal, so it was quite a night for a guy who’s proven to be more than just That Fellow Who Scored A Bunch of Olympic Shootout Goals in 2014.

Highlight of the Night

Theodore to Nosek for the game-winner and breath-taker:

If you’re into rougher stuff, this post touches on the Tom Wilson and Ryan Reaves dramas.

Factoid of the Night

Want to point to one Vegas Golden Knights stat that’s truly unsustainable? Move over, Marc-Andre Fleury‘s save percentage (playoffs and regular season) and William Karlsson’s regular-season shooting percentage:

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MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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.

Golden Knights’ fourth line steps up in big way in Game 1

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LAS VEGAS — If you were wondering when Ryan Reaves last scored in consecutive games, you’d have to go back to Jan. 29-30, 2015 when he was a member of the St. Louis Blues.

For Tomas Nosek, you don’t have to go back as far to find his biggest goal before Monday night. Back on Oct. 10, Nosek scored the first ever home goal for the Vegas Golden Knights. 

A wild Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Golden Knights and Washington Capitals had a bit of everything. Rapper Lil Jon performed outside T-Mobile Arena; a Tron-looking drumline led a parade, featuring comedian Carrot Top, into the building; Michael Buffer announced the starting lineups; Oh, and we can’t forget another memorable pre-game intro featuring the knight slaying more foes.

And then the game started, and in hockey-related happenings, Vegas’ depth was the difference in their 6-4 victory.

[Golden Knights beat Capitals in Stanley Cup Final Game 1 thriller]

Entering Game 1, only six of the Golden Knights’ goals from forwards in the playoffs came from their bottom six. Tom Wilson gave the Capitals a 4-3 lead 1:10 into the third period, and then Vegas’ fourth line took over.

Ninety-one seconds after Wilson’s goal, Reaves tied the game, thanks to a missed cross-check that helped him clear some room in front of Braden Holtby‘s crease.

During Game 5 of the Western Conference Final, it was Reaves’ deflection that snapped a 1-1 tie against the Winnipeg Jets midway through the second period that ended up being the difference in the elimination game.

“I was saving [the goals],” Reaves said Monday night. “I told everybody I was going to save them for the playoffs.”

Nosek would provide the game’s fourth lead change seven minutes later after finishing off a lovely pass from Shea Theodore.

An empty-netter later from Nosek with seconds remaining would seal Game 1 in the Golden Knights’ favor. 

“Those guys, they don’t get enough credit,” said Vegas forward Jonathan Marchessault. “They play so hard and don’t get as much ice time as they wanted. Getting those big goals there at the end, it’s huge. I’m really happy for them.”

Marchessault is one-third of the Golden Knights’ top line that has provided 18 goals this postseason. A staple of Cup winners is production from their bottom lines The Capitals have received that from their group, but Vegas didn’t need that through three rounds and it hasn’t hindered them. In a Game 1 where no lead was safe, there wasn’t a reliance on their top lines to carry the burden.

“They played unbelievable. They were the difference in the game tonight,” said defenseman Nate Schmidt. “They are the ones that separated themselves in the way that they played. It’s always great to see those guys to be able to produce and be a part of such a tight game, especially when it comes down to the end there.”

Both coaches weren’t happy with how Game 1 played out, but Gerard Gallant was a little more upbeat considering his team now only needs three more wins to capture the Stanley Cup. Adjustments will be made, tweaking will be done, video sessions will be held. But for Barry Trotz and his players, they’ll likely chalk up what happened to defensive breakdown and sloppy play in their own zone. Reaves doesn’t believe his line will factor much into any of their opponents’ discussions ahead of Game 2.

“I don’t think they’re going to be having meetings about the fourth line,” said Reaves. “I doubt that’s the problem.”

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.