Alex Tuch was the Nathan MacKinnon-like player the Vegas Golden Knights needed on Monday.
Lower your torches and pitchforks before you think I’m comparing Tuch to one of the top three players in the world.
It goes without saying Tuch is the best power skater on the Golden Knights. You combine the smooth skating and speed that he’s continued to develop since becoming a full-time NHL player, and you have a guy that impacts the game in all three zones.
Much like what MacKinnon does for the Colorado Avalanche.
Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer threw his lineup in a blender Monday in Denver, and it paid off. Vegas won 3-0 and salvaged a split in the four-game series with Colorado.
“I thought our last few games, we’ve been making strides defensively,” Tuch said. “I think we’ve really tried to be hard against their top guys, and it led to a little bit of offense, and we buried our chances.”
Two goals came from Tuch, who was moved to the top line with Chandler Stephenson and Mark Stone. Max Pacioretty moved to the second line with Cody Glass and Reilly Smith, while Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson were getting third-line minutes with Nicolas Roy.
Tuch, who led all Vegas forwards in ice time at 18:48, has three goals in two games and is one behind Pacioretty (8) for the team lead. His 13 points tie him for second on Vegas, trailing Stone.
“Tuchy’s had a great year,” DeBoer said. “He’s earned everything’s he’s got with hard work and to have a good start to the season.”
Tuch has shown flashes of being ready for a top-line role in the past but never lived up to that capability when given the chance. This promotion was different. The Golden Knights were in need of a massive offensive shakeup after accumulating four goals at 5-on-5 in the previous five games entering Monday.
Vegas got two in its most important game of the season.
But as the game wore on and the Golden Knights had their best outing of this short season, Tuch’s promotion wasn’t just about his scoring. Tuch was moved to the top because he’s the only player in that group that can go toe-to-toe with MacKinnon.
To be clear: It takes a village to neutralize MacKinnon, let alone slow him down. He’s going to get his chances. The Hart Trophy finalist had five shot attempts Monday, three of them on goal.
Stone is methodical and exceptional at causing turnovers but has never been the fastest skater. Stephenson has the speed but doesn’t have that game-breaking impact.
Tuch, however, is a fast, powerful skater who is still getting better defensively. Look no further than this backcheck on MacKinnon.
This is what I mean by MacKinnon-like. No other player has the size and speed on this roster to make it happen. The Golden Knights can converge on MacKinnon and make him give up the puck, but do so at your own risk when having to face Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog.
“I liked him as much defensively [Monday] as I did offensively,” DeBoer said. “With his speed defensively, he’s one guy who can hunt down guys like MacKinnon from behind.”
Tuch was on the ice with MacKinnon for 6:24.
“Really tiring,” an exasperated Tuch said laughing about defending MacKinnon. “A lot of plays are going to go through him, and we know that because of how good he is. We didn’t want to give him time and space. We wanted to frustrate him as much as possible. They’re deep, but that top line is a whole other animal.”
DeBoer, however, said Tuch’s promotion wasn’t meant to neutralize MacKinnon.
“I felt we hadn’t scored easily in the first three games against these guys,” DeBoer said. “We wanted to freshen some things up and hopefully loosen some things up offensively with some different looks. I think that happened.
“With Tuchy, it’s just adding layers to his game every year. He’s still a young player. Recognizing he can use that speed defensively, as well as offensively, it makes it easy to play him against guys like MacKinnon because he can skate with those guys.”
Vegas’ top line was good before the shakeup. Not just because Pacioretty and Stone can impact a game at the drop of a hat, but Stephenson’s speed is just as important.
He doesn’t possess the skill of a MacKinnon down the middle, but Stephenson’s speed opened the ice up for Pacioretty and Stone. They only need an inch or two to make things happen. Replace Pacioretty with Tuch, and you have a combination of speed and power that worked on Monday.
The hope, if you’re Vegas, is this line doesn’t allow 15 attempts while only generating five at 5-on-5, but there’s something there.
“Those two guys are unbelievable players,” Tuch said of his new linemates. “Playing with Stoney, you know he’s going to make plays like that and put me in open ice. Chandler’s just an unbelievable 200-foot player. They’re easy to play with.”
As the age-old adage goes, if it’s broke, fix it. For one night, Alex Tuch on the top line fixed a lot of things.