Forward Alex Tuch is tied for second on the Golden Knights in goals with three despite playing in five of the team’s 13 games.
That might say as much about the offense’s lack of production as it does about Tuch’s performance since returning from a a lower-body injury that delayed the start of his season.
Tuch, who signed a lucrative contract extension during his layoff, has provided some much-needed scoring punch to a team that is last in the league in shooting percentage — ahead of the Kings with 2.2 goals per game.
“(He’s been) exactly what I expected,” coach Gerard Gallant said after practice Friday as the Knights prepared for their 7 p.m. Saturday game against the Carolina Hurricanes at T-Mobile Arena. “He’s a big guy that can skate and shoot and create scoring opportunities. He’s getting better every game, so it was good to get him back.”
He has provided some spark to what has largely been a listless power-play unit, particularly as a presence in front of the net.
Tuch scored a power-play goal early in the third period Thursday night to get the Knights within a goal at 4-3 in what would eventually be a 5-3 loss to the Blues, but the offense generated four goals on the two-game trip to Nashville and St. Louis.
The 22-year-old doesn’t think all of the team’s woes are on the offensive end, however. He believes the solution to their lack of goals will come from cleaning up some details on defense.
“I don’t think the issue is really scoring,” Tuch said. “I think we’d be able to score more goals if we were playing better defensively as a group, if we weren’t giving up goals early and always having to play from behind.
“We’re a resilient bunch, but it gets a little old after awhile getting down one or two goals.”
Tuch himself had a defensive lapse that contributed to the fifth Blues goal on Thursday.
“It’s a lot of little things that aren’t going right,” Gallant said. “We’re playing decent enough hockey to win games, but it’s not good enough. There’s something missing, and we have to find that and correct it.
“You have to pay more attention to little details, working hard in practice, making sure you’re doing the right things in practice and when the game comes, you’ve got to make sure you focus for 60 minutes and every shift counts.”
Tuch has helped some of those second-line shifts be more productive, particularly in the absence of injured forwards Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty. Over the last three games, Tuch has scored three goals and added an assist while Erik Haula has a goal and two assists.
“I feel like it’s been good,” Tuch said. “It just took me a few games to get my feet under me and start getting going and start producing a little bit more. I still have a ways to go to get where I want to be, but I’ve found some really good chemistry with Haula and before Pacioretty got hurt we were getting there.
“Now I feel like (Tomas) Hyka has been playing well. Now it’s just about trying to find a consistent 60 minutes.”
The Knights face a Carolina team that has lost three straight games, including a Friday night visit to the Arizona Coyotes. Center Sebastian Aho, an emerging star at 21 years old, has 17 pointsand Micheal Ferland has seven goals to lead the team.
If they fall Saturday, the Knights face a scenario where they lose a third straight game before heading back out on the road for four consecutive games.
Tuch thinks the biggest key for the Knights is to not overthink their inability to consistently score.
“I think we just have to push it out of our heads,” he said. “ We can’t worry about not scoring, we need to think about the team winning and the team playing defense and doing all of those things right.
“If one line isn’t scoring, hopefully another line can. I think we have great depth in this locker room and that’s our strength.”
Who: Hurricanes at Golden Knights
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: T-Mobile Arena
TV: AT&T SportsNet (Cox 313/1313, DirecTV 684, CenturyLink 760/1760, U-verse 757/1757, DISH 414/5414)
Radio: KRLV (98.9 FM, 1340 AM)
Line: Knights -145; total 5½