WASHINGTON – The Vegas Golden Knights gave up three draft picks to get Tomas Tatar at the trade deadline and are paying him more money than any other player on their roster not named Marc-Andre Fleury.
It’s payback time.
The Golden Knights are down 2-1 and could very well be in an 0-3 hole if NHL referees actually called crosschecking. For the first time in these playoffs, they’re desperate to find some secondary offense and a spark, which is why Tatar will be making his Stanley Cup final debut tonight in Game 4. David Perron did not take line rushes during the morning skate and there was speculation that he would be the one sitting out, but Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant vehemently denied that Perron will definitely be the one sitting out.
“Who said Perron is out? Did he say that?” Gallant said after the morning skate. “I didn’t say Perron was out of the lineup, did I? So you can speculate that all you want.”
From this vantage point, a much more logical player to sit out would by Ryan Carpenter, who has been virtually non-existent during the Stanley Cup final. If the Golden Knights are truly looking for offense, which they should be, does it make sense to take out one skilled, but underachieving 20-goal scorer and replace him with another? And if there’s one thing the Golden Knights need in this series, it’s offense. The Capitals have been able to throw a defensive blanket over the Knights in the past two games and they need players who have the skill to make better shot selections without them being blocked. The Golden Knights had 26 shots blocked in Game 3 and 18 in Game 2.
“He’s a goalscorer and we obviously wanted to change our lineup a little bit,” Gallant said. “He brings offense, he can shoot a puck, he can help our power play. He’s excited to play, that’s for sure.”
To say that Tatar has been a major disappointment for the Golden Knights would be an understatement. Vegas GM George McPhee gave up a first-round pick in this year’s draft – guaranteed to be no higher than 30th overall – along with a second-rounder in 2019 and third-rounder in 2021. He scored just four goals and six points in 20 regular-season games and has played just six of the Golden Knights’ 18 playoff games. He has scored once, giving the Knights a 1-0 lead in Game 2 of the Western Conference final against the Winnipeg Jets.
Tatar knows his team paid a steep price to get him and that he still has three years remaining on a contract that will have a cap hit of $5.3 million. Any player who has to sit out at the most crucial time of the year is bound to have some issues with it, but Tatar has been a professional about his situation. But the Golden Knights, as they proved with the Vadim Shipachyov situation early in the season, have proved they are nothing if not a meritocracy when it comes to deploying players. Sitting out a guy you paid such a steep price to get might not look great, but if he’s not among your best players, he sits. “It’s not an easy position, but when you do everything for a win, it’s just the way it is,” Tatar said. “Sometimes you have to put your personal stuff beside and you just want to focus and do the best thing for a team to win a game.”
Gallant said Tatar has reacted to his situation the way most coaches would expect. He knows Tatar can’t be pleased about being scratched, but he knows enough to stay in line and not be a distraction. “He’s been very positive, to be honest with you,” Gallant said. “Unless he’s saying something different to somebody else, he’s been A-1 positive with our guys. Is it a tough situation? It definitely is. He’s a first-line guy and everybody wants to play. But when the coaches put the lineup together it’s the best lineup for that series or that game, you’re trying to win every game.”
But now the time for Tatar to be a cheerleader and all-round good guy are over. As Gallant bluntly said, “We haven’t played good hockey.” And he’s right. Tatar will need a big game, but the top line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith are going to have to find a way to break through. Another move Gallant made was to put Alex Tuch on the second line with James Neal and Erik Haula, not necessarily to help Tuch, but to get Erik Haula going. Haula does not have a goal since Game 5 of the second-round series against the San Jose Sharks.
Gallant hinted that there might be one more tweak to the lineup, which would probably involve putting William Carrier in and putting him back on the fourth line with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Tomas Nosek. That would move Ryan Reaves up to the third line with Tatar and Cody Eakin.
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