Forward depth key to 2-0 series lead for Golden Knights

Updated April 14, 2018 - 5:52 pm

LOS ANGELES — The leading scorer for the Golden Knights during the regular season (William Karlsson) was held scoreless by Los Angeles in the first two games of the Western Conference quarterfinals.

Their second-leading scorer (Jonathan Marchessault) had one assist, which came courtesy of a trampoline-like bounce off the end boards at T-Mobile Arena.

“We work on that play all the time,” coach Gerard Gallant said facetiously.

And their third-leading scorer (David Perron) has yet to play in the postseason.

But the Knights’ depth has been the difference and one of the biggest reasons they have a 2-0 series advantage over Los Angeles.

Game 3 is set for 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Staples Center.

“I think we’ve been very solid,” said goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who has stopped 59 of 60 shots in the two games. “The four lines have controlled the puck and the play. Obviously our defensemen have been great in front of me, too, getting the puck out of the zone and joining the rush.

“Shea (Theodore) got a big goal for us. I feel like all season long, we need everybody to contribute, and that’s what we’ve been getting.”

Theodore leads the Knights with two points through the first two games, and the defenseman’s blocked shot in the second overtime late Friday ignited the rush that led to Erik Haula’s winner.

Rookie Alex Tuch had the first goal in the Knights’ 2-1 victory in Game 2 when he ended an 0-for-16 drought against the Kings on the power play.

“Depth is huge, especially in playoffs, because there’s a lot of line matching in the playoffs,” wing Reilly Smith said. “We’ve had some guys step up. It was great to see (Theodore) and Tuch score their first goals. That’s what it comes down to in the playoffs. You need a whole team. Goals are hard to come by, so when you can get them, they’re usually game-changers.”

The Knights’ No. 1 line of Karlsson, Marchessault and Smith was the most productive in the league at 5-on-5 during the first five months of the regular season, but has yet to produce a goal at even strength in the series.

The unit was on the ice for Tuch’s power-play goal Friday and has produced almost twice as many scoring chances at even strength as Los Angeles’ top line, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.

“It’d be nice to score a couple more goals,” Smith said. “I know playoff hockey, it’s going to be pretty tight. I think we’ve had enough chances to bury some, and we haven’t, so I think we just have to be a little bit grittier in front of the net and be able to tap in a couple of pucks, because there are pucks laying around there, we just haven’t been able to find them.”

Gallant rolled four lines throughout the regular season and has not shortened his bench in the postseason.

The fourth line of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Tomas Nosek and William Carrier, which pushed around the Kings in Game 1, saw significant ice time again in Game 2. Bellemare said Nosek was the line’s best player in the second overtime.

Los Angeles leaned heavily on center Anze Kopitar and defensemen Alec Martinez and Oscar Fantenberg in Game 2.

Martinez played a franchise-record 44 minutes, 58 seconds, and Fantenberg received 41:10 of ice time in place of Norris Trophy candidate Drew Doughty, who was suspended. Kopitar logged 31:32 of ice time at even strength and 38:54 overall.

In contrast, defenseman Nate Schmidt was the only Knights player to play more than 30 minutes at even strength.

“My guys are used to playing four lines a lot,” Gallant said. “I don’t know what the other teams do — I don’t check every night to see whether they played their four lines — but my fourth line usually plays anywhere from 11 to 15 minutes in that area most nights, and they do a good job. They’re used to it. They know how important they are for us. It’s key for us.”

More Golden Knights: Follow all of our Golden Knights coverage online at reviewjournal.com/GoldenKnights and @HockeyinVegas on Twitter.

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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