Injuries, scoring slumps, and overall experimentation have resulted in head coach Bruce Cassidy shuffling up the Vegas Golden Knights line combinations all season. Recently, the resulting line of Will Carrier, Phil Kessel, and Chandler Stephenson was formed.
On paper, an expansion draft pick, a late free agency signing, and an overlooked member of the Washington Capitals organization didn't look like the flashiest of lines. But for whatever reason, it has been the Golden Knights' best line in their last stretch of games.
Kessel has seven points in his last seven games, Stephenson seven in his last eight, and Carrier eight in his last seven. Every member of the line now has more than ten goals, and the team is 3-0-1 since it's inception.
“If you look at our line you are probably thinking it isn’t going to work… But it is right now," said Carrier.
The line has been dominant, winning puck battles in the offensive zone and passing well through the neutral zone.
"I think we are just comfortable playing with one another. I know Will, obviously from last year, and he's easy to play with. For Phil, the more we played together, the more comfortable we've gotten knowing where each other is. Obviously, winning helps confidence and all that too," said Stephenson.
The line allows a seemingly perfect mixture of skill with Kessel, speed with Stephenson, and size with Carrier.
“We're all different, right? I'm more of a physical guy, but it seems to work. Phil finds lanes, and Stevie is always finding ways around the net," said Carrier.
Kessel has rebounded from a lackluster start to his Golden Knights career. Outside of games where he was breaking NHL milestones, Kessel was a weak link in the Golden Knights' forward corps and was frequently benched in the later stages of close games. Now things have changed.
"I think it's just a good mixed bag of everything. Phil has done it for so long, and he knows the game so well and reads it so well. So anytime you can just play your game and be yourself on a line, I think that's what makes it click," added Stephenson.
Stephenson himself is having another remarkable season with the Golden Knights and was finally given some recognition as he was named to the 2023 NHL All-Star Game. After leading the VGK in points last year, Stephenson is once again first on the team in scoring with 47 points in 54 games played.
With 14 goals on the season, Carrier has already broken his career high from last year (11) and has more goals than guys like Patrick Kane, Vladamir Tarasenko, and Jonathan Huberdeau. His two-way game has been consistent since year one for the VGK, but pucks are now starting to go in.
"I don't think he's any different from years past. I think he's just burning his chances now. It's so hard to take the puck from him. He has underrated speed and size and that is a good combination. I know if you have speed and strength in your toolbox, it's a tough guy to play against. I think that's what makes him so good as he just has the right combination," said Stephenson.
Coach Cassidy stated that the original thought behind the line seemed from having every forward line on the team have a net-front presence, especially with captain Mark Stone out of the lineup with another back injury.
"We didn't have this one in our back pockets in September. This is just the way it played out. I think what happened is that we got the news with Mark we thought we were going to need a net presence on each line," said Cassidy.
Cassidy details his four net-front players as Carrier, Paul Cotter on the first line, Nicolas Roy on the fourth line, and also Michael Amadio, although he admits his game is a work-in-progress, on the second line.
The trickle-down effect has been felt, with the Golden Knights scoring 17 goals in their last three games. Star players Jack Eichel and Reilly Smith are now getting out of their scoring slumps, and Brett Howden has found a home on the fourth line.
“We would like to keep these lines the way they are. We have seen good balance recently… Stevie's line was a good find by us; they got it going coming out of the break,” said Cassidy.
For the time being, the Golden Knights have a dynamic forward group of lines that has resulted from the play of the team's newly-formed third line. The VGK will play the San Jose Sharks at home on Thursday at 7:00 p.m.