NEW YORK — William Carrier still believes scoring a goal is a better feeling than dishing out a big hit.
But the Golden Knights’ winger is starting to change his view.
“Sometimes, a big hit is worth it,” he said.
Carrier leads the NHL in hits by a wide margin — don’t remind linemate Ryan Reaves of that fact — and has developed into one of the league’s most punishing forecheckers in his third season.
But the 6-foot-2-inch, 212-pound Carrier also has added some scoring touch to complement his bump-and-grind style of play.
“He’s real confident,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “When he gets the puck, he doesn’t just dump it in anymore and just chase it. He makes plays, he takes pucks hard to the net.”
Carrier was not known for his physical play when he was drafted in the second round by St. Louis in 2013. But after being acquired by Buffalo in 2014 as part of the deal that sent goaltender Ryan Miller to the Blues, Carrier altered his style.
When grinder Nicolas Deslauries was injured in October 2016, the Sabres recalled Carrier and asked him to fill that role.
“To make it in the NHL, you’ve got to find a way,” Carrier said. “I fit in that role, and my first game I had like 15 checks or something like that and they said, ‘OK, we’ll keep him up.’ From there, I just kept doing it, and now I’m really good at it, so we’re trying to work on other stuff, too.”
Carrier has 165 hits entering Wednesday’s game against the New York Islanders at Barclays Center, while Reaves is second in the league with 127.
Carrier is on pace for 422 hits over 82 games, which would be the highest total since the league began releasing figures on hits in 2002-03.
Islanders winger Matt Martin, who led the league in hits five straight seasons, owns the top mark with 382 hits during the 2014-15 season, according to statistics at NHL.com.
“Why you gotta rub it in like that?” Reaves said lightheartedly when reminded he’s lagging behind Carrier in that department.
“It’s got to be frustrating to have the guys 1-2 in the league in hits coming at you every night. Usually that’s just me bringing that to a line, and it’s nice to have somebody else bring that. And him bringing it that much is unreal.”
Carrier, who turns 24 on Dec. 20, said he notices the toll his line takes on opposing defensemen.
That group was tasked with matching up against the Capitals’ top line on Dec. 4 and held Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson largely in check. Ovechkin’s goal came shortly after Reaves hopped over the boards to join third-liners Tomas Nosek and Daniel Carr.
“You see (defensemen) start cheating and they let you go get the puck first,” Carrier said. “And that’s why we’re doing it. We’re not just doing it to get out there and energy and stuff. We get out there, and we’ve got the puck.”
Carrier missed 45 games last season due to various injuries and another 10 games during the playoffs, but hasn’t missed a game this season.
He matched his career high in goals (5), which he set as a rookie with Buffalo in 2016-17, and continues to generate scoring chances.
“I had tons of chances last year, I just couldn’t finish,” Carrier said. “I’m still young and I’m still learning, (I’m) slowing it down. (I have) a little bit more poise on my blade.
“Whatever the team needs we’ll do. If it’s a check, if it’s a goal. Right now the team is loving the way we’re scoring, chipping in every night. I think we’ll keep doing that. If the team needs anything else, we’ll do it.”
■ Who: Golden Knights at Islanders
■ When: 4 p.m. Wednesday
■ Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York
■ 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: Golden Knights -125; total 6
1. Road trippin’. The Knights begin a four-game road trip and have lost two straight away from home. They are 7-11 on the road (Vegas!), but this is a chance to gain some confidence with the Islanders, Devils and Rangers all slumping over their past 10 games.
2. Balancing act. The Knights are one of three teams with five players who have scored 10 or more goals, joining the Lightning and Penguins. They had 10 players record a point in Sunday’s victory over Dallas, and that balance has been key to their recent surge.
3. One left. The Islanders remain the only team the Knights have not defeated after losing both games last season. New York has struggled on the power play, going 5-for-56 (8.9 percent) since Nov. 1. Cal Clutterbuck and Jordan Eberle left Monday’s game with injuries, and their status is uncertain.
David Schoen Las Vegas Review-Journal