Chanlder Stephenson’s absence from Game Two between the Vegas Golden Knights and Montreal Canadiens came as a last-minute surprise to many. Following the game, head coach Pete DeBoer said Stephenson was “day-to-day, upper body” in regards to the injury. DeBoer is not one to reveal a lot when it comes to injuries, so it’s likely we won’t know until game time if Stephenson will play in Game Three. If he doesn’t play, what are the options for the VGK?
In Game Two, Keegan Kolesar was elevated to the top-line center position. He won a couple of key faceoffs that led to goals by Alex Pietrangelo, and didn’t look out of place. I would argue that Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone might be two of the easiest players to play with, elevating anyone’s game that steps between them. It doesn’t mean you can just show up and excel, but it does make life easier.
Perhaps the biggest issue for Vegas is winning faceoffs. As I mentioned Kolesar won a couple of big draws but still finished 5-for-12 over the game. In fact, the VGK as a whole ended up winning 25-of-60 draws in Game Two and really need to up that percentage tonight. Starting with control of the puck is paramount, especially against a team like Montreal that can hold onto the puck very well.
So when it comes to options up the middle, the Vegas Golden Knights actually have several options. A quick check of the roster shows you that eight Golden Knights forwards are listed as natural centers: Cody Glass, Nic Roy, Dylan Sikura, Stephenson, Mattias Janmark, Patrick Brown, William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault. We already know Karlsson and Marchessault will stay together with Reilly Smith. Kolesar is definitely an option to go back into that spot. Roy has slid back-and-forth at times this season depending on the lineup. Janmark has proven himself to be a fantastic and flexible addition to the lineup.
But if I were in charge of the lineup decision, I’d roll the dice by inserting Cody Glass into that top-line spot. My reasoning is two-fold. First, Glass stands the best chance of success if he plays with Stone and Pacioretty. Even though he hasn’t played in a while, I’d expect him to hit the ice with energy and enthusiasm, and bringing that type of energy to the top line would definitely give it a boost while knowing he has the safety net of a Selke Trophy finalist on the wing.
Second, Glass struggled to produce at five-on-five but showed an ability to generate power-play goals. He is not afraid to stick his nose in front of the net and the Golden Knights could use that jam in front of Carey Price. The power play has struggled over the course of the post-season, going just 4-for-34 (11.8%) in the playoffs. That’s 15th out of 16 playoff teams. It’s no secret that elevating that stat by just a few percentage points dramatically increases your chance to win hockey games, especially given the Canadiens penchant for heading to the box so far in the series.
It’s possible Stephenson ends up playing tonight. DeBoer alluded to the obvious in saying that this time of year, everyone is banged up. I can say that is very accurate when you’re this deep in the playoffs. It’s just a matter of what you can manage or play through. But if Stephenson is unable to go, I’d like to see Glass get a chance to charge up the Vegas Golden Knights top line for Game Three.