CALGARY — Their stalls were next to each other in the Golden Knights locker room last season, a veteran and the rookie who resembled him in so many ways.
Alex Tuch, many have surmised, could well be the next James Neal.
Big, strong, a knack for scoring goals.
The two shared the ice again Monday night at Scotiabank Saddledome, Tuch on the second line and Neal now with Calgary, having signed a five-year contract with the Flames for $28.75 million.
In helping lead the Knights to a Stanley Cup Final last year, Neal scored 25 goals and totaled 44 points in 71 games.
He added six goals and five assists during the playoffs.
Neal also brought a unique dimension into the locker room.
“He’s definitely a different guy,” said Tuch. “It’s not a bad thing. It took a little bit to learn how to communicate with him. He has been around for a long time, a well-known guy in the league, lot of experience and he expected a lot out of me as a rookie.
“He pushed me and it was good. I learned a lot from him, how to be a pro. I really looked up to him for that, especially in the playoffs with his work ethic, his drive, his want to win. He gave me tips here and there that really made me a better player. A great guy to learn from.”
Is is possible the Knights, who have struggled to find consistency to open their second season, are missing Neal in the locker room more than they would care to admit?
“You need different leaders — vocal leaders, guys (who lead) by example, guys who get serious real quick and tell everyone to figure it out,” Tuch said. “I think we have all those guys in our room. But, obviously, James was a big leader for us last year. But now it’s next man up.”
Tuch has been one of those guys to step up.
He has five goals and 12 points in 13 games this season entering Monday night’s game.
Subban gets call
The Knights started Malcolm Subban in goal on Monday night in the second game of a back-to-back after Marc-Andre Fleury picked up a win Sunday in Edmonton.
Subban was 0-3 in his first three starts of the season with a .885 save percentage and a 3.17 goals against average.
“He just hasn’t played enough,” coach Gerard Gallant said before the game. “With the schedule, Fleury has played a lot. (Subban) has been fine. He’s been good. He hasn’t cost us any games. I don’t think he’s won yet, but he hasn’t cost us any games and he’s played fine. Hopefully he gets on a good roll like he did last year because we’re going to need him.”
It didn’t happen on Monday as Subban allowed five goals on 14 shots in the first period in a ?-? defeat.
Tomas Nosek was also back in the lineup on the third line after he was replaced by Oscar Lindberg on Sunday night against Edmonton. Lindberg remained in with Tomas Hyka scratched against Calgary.
Gallant said Nosek had been out due to an undisclosed injury.
“It was a minor, minor thing,” Gallant said. “Obviously nothing major because he’s playing tonight.”
Defensive pairings same
Gallant opted to keep the pairings from Sunday night together after the Knights earned a big road win in Nate Schmidt’s season debut.
That meant veterans Deryk Engelland and Nick Holden once again played together on Monday.
“I feel great about that,” Engelland said before the game. “Nick is a great player who is really easy to play with. At this point, we just want whatever is going to work. Last night, I thought we had a solid game. We just want to keep that rolling.”