Chandler Stephenson has served as the Golden Knights’ first line center all season. Stephenson missed the Game Two loss against the Montreal Canadiens and as of this morning’s skate, remains out of the lineup. Does Nicolas Roy get another game at 1C or will Pete DeBoer mix it up, with his offense going 60 minutes without a goal?
There’s your answer. Alex Tuch, to the eye test, is the most dynamic player the Golden Knights have. He’s a big body with speed, who is embracing his physicality and defensive value more and more as he matures. Watching Mark Stone, a Selke Award finalist (as a winger!), on a daily basis has appeared to pay dividends for the 25-year-old “winger”.
Alex Tuch (89) with Mark Stone (61)
USA Today Sports
This version of Alex Tuch is not the version the Minnesota Wild essentially gave away in the 2017 Expansion Draft. He had the potential to grow into the complete player he is today, but the speed and far reach of his growth has been exponential. The young power forward has gone from an offensive threat to a very solid 200-foot player.
Centering a line requires that kind of commitment up and down the ice. When asked, the very first factor DeBoer mentioned in a center’s skill set was their skating ability. He also downplayed the position change, with kids getting time in all positions developmentally.
“Obviously that ability to get up and down the ice and play in both ends. I don’t know if there’s specific traits. All these guys have played center at different points.”
- Pete DeBoer
He has a point. Growing up, all the best players are out at center. They skate circles around the other kids and over time, actual skill and strategy is taught. The center position in youth hockey is similar to a shortstop in Little League. He’s your best player, pushed into the most important position.
Can Tuch translate that into NHL success? He’s done it before and had success. Worst case scenario, his physical ability can carry him through it. He’s routinely taken faceoffs for his kicked out linemates and has done well.
One negative aspect of this lineup change is that it makes the Golden Knights extremely top heavy. Although Mattias Janmark has been a great addition to the team, including his playoff hat trick in a series clinching game, he’s not a guy who can carry a line.
Without Tuch on the third line, the Golden Knights’ bottom six lacks a true point producer. The Montreal Canadiens have very good two-way players and if they’re able to shut down the top two lines, the Golden Knights could be in trouble. Fortunately for Vegas, the misfit line is playing their best hockey of the year and that new-look top line is insanely talented.
Tonight’s matchups will be very intriguing. Montreal will almost assuredly counter the Tuch line with their best defensive center, Phillip Danault. Regardless of the matchup, the Tuch line should get their fair share of chances. Their new look of Max Pacioretty, a sniping winger, alongside the two best two-way forwards on the team could be a recipe for success.
Tonight we will see what happens when a first-line quality player finally gets their shot. Tuch will be a man possessed as he’s typically underutilized and stuck on the third line. Despite the luxury of deploying such a great player in the bottom six, he’s not a third liner. When you have good players, you need to use them.
While down 2-0 to the Colorado Avalanche, the Golden Knights maintained that “you don’t panic until you lose a home game”. They went on to win the next four games. This go around, they wasted no time losing a home game. Being down 2-1, with another game left to play in Montreal, is not where they want to be. A Game Three win is way more crucial than it should be.
Tonight’s puck drop is scheduled for 5:00 PM PDT and will be shown nationally on the USA Network. Will the Golden Knights steal an away game against a confident Canadiens team? Will Tuch be the ultimate difference-maker or will it be another zero goal game for the VGK offense?
Tonight’s winner could very well be Cup Finals bound and that’s no exaggeration. Momentum is everything this time of year and both teams will be fighting, tooth and nail for the win. This one is going to be good!
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