Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant knew early on he had a talented team.
He also found out he had a deep squad.
The Knights were among the NHL’s leading teams in man-games lost because of injury in their inaugural season, with 383. But thanks to the roster general manager George McPhee and his staff crafted, they were able to not just survive the losses, they somehow flourished.
“I knew it when we were playing five goaltenders,” Gallant said half-jokingly about his team’s quality depth. “Our guys have done a great job all year of staying ready.
“You’re going to have injuries. That’s part of the game. We lost a lot of people for long stretches, but we always had someone ready to step in.”
That’s been evident throughout the playoffs. Los Angeles general manager Rob Blake experienced that firsthand as the Knights used their depth to eliminate the Kings in a four-game opening-round sweep.
“What stood out to me was the fact that other than (Alex) Tuch, everyone on Vegas’ roster had NHL experience,” Blake said. “When you look at that collectively, that makes a huge difference, especially in the playoffs.
“They can sit someone like (Tomas) Tatar for (David) Perron whereas a lot of teams would just move Tatar down a line. It creates a lot of competition from within and you’re talking doing it with NHL players, not young kids you’re hoping can help.”
The Knights have been fortunate during the postseason with injuries. Going into Game 1 of the Western Conference Final against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday, only one player — forward Will Carrier — is dealing with an injury (upper-body).
Facing the same problem in Game 6 against the San Jose Sharks, Gallant had options because of the team’s depth. He could have returned Tomas Nosek to the fourth line, where he had played all year with Carrier and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. He could have played Tatar. His other option was to play Ryan Reaves, who had yet to see action in the first nine playoff games.
“Obviously everybody wants to play,” Reaves said. “But I’ve been on both sides of it. You just have to stay positive and stay ready.
“It helps when you’re winning. It’s fun being part of it. And when they call your number, you know you’re ready to contribute.”
Tatar said he’d love to get back in the lineup. But he understands.
“You have to be professional about it,” he said. “We’re blessed to have a lot of good players. But anything can happen in the playoffs so you’ve got to prepare and be ready if they need you.”
Gallant credits assistant coaches Ryan McGill and Ryan Craig for keeping the reserves prepared and engaged. They stay late after practice and work together on competitive drills to stay sharp.
“They’ve done a great job all year working with our guys,” Gallant said of both Ryans. “Obviously it’s very important that everyone remains ready, and the guys have worked very hard with the coaches.”
The team’s playoff run has helped develop that depth. It allowed defenseman Luca Sbisa to take his time returning from a hand injury that kept him out nearly two months, including the first round of the playoffs. But Sbisa was able to get back in during the San Jose series, replacing Jon Merrill and bolstering the Knights’ defense corps.
“You just have to be patient and wait for your chance,” Sbisa said. “When you’re winning, you don’t want to make a lot of changes and Jonny was playing well. I understood. But it’s great to be able to be back in the lineup and help contribute.
“Every player wants to play in the playoffs. That’s what you work hard for all season, to get to the playoffs, so you definitely want to be part of it. And we’ve got a very deep team. Everyone in this room is capable.”
Ryan Carpenter has been in and out of the lineup since the Knights signed him off waivers in December. That includes the playoffs, where he was a healthy scratch for part of the San Jose series. He was back playing with Bellemare and Reaves when the Knights clinched the series last Sunday.
“Whoever hasn’t been in the lineup has helped our team contribute this year,” Carpenter said. “I think guys are confident even if they’re not playing.
“You have to be a pro and stay ready. You have to have depth in the playoffs. You have to have four lines going. It seems like we had that in both series and the momentum from all our lines and all our (defensemen).”