Gerard Gallant decided less was more Saturday after a second period in which he thought his team was “skating in quicksand.”
The Golden Knights put only three shots on goal in the middle frame of their 4-3 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, so the coach shortened his bench and played 10 forwards in the third period. Centers Cody Eakin and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, along with wingers William Carrier and Ryan Reaves, mixed it up to form a modified “bottom six” which managed to generate a spark for the Knights.
“I didn’t like our second period at all and I just thought (about) trying to get the guys more into the game,” Gallant said Saturday. “It worked well tonight. They played pretty hard together.”
Eakin, Bellemare, Carrier and Reaves rotated in and out, and managed to find chemistry quickly. Eakin and Bellemare had four scoring chances when paired in the third period and converted on one. Eakin one-timed a pass from Bellemare past Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky with 10:39 left in the third to give the Knights a 3-2 lead.
“We kept it simple,” Eakin said. “We got three, four shifts together each and produced a couple chances, so it was good.”
The skaters negatively impacted by the change were forwards Valentin Zykov and Tomas Nosek. Neither played a shift in the third period after their line with Eakin had zero shots on goal through 40 minutes.
“I hope I don’t have to do it a whole lot of times,” Gallant said.
The Knights’ 4-3 defeat marked the third time this season they had a lead in the third period and lost in regulation.
They have also lost twice in overtime after having a third period lead, but still rank eighth in the NHL in third-period goal differential at plus-eight.
“We had a chance to win a game in the third period. You’ve got to find a way to shut it down,” defenseman Nate Schmidt said. “Maybe you’re not feeling the best or whatever it may be, but you have to find a way to do something in that third period.”
The Knights have their first three-game home losing streak of the season after falling to the Blue Jackets on Saturday. The longest home losing streak in their two-year history is four games (Feb. 27-March 16).
The Knights (66 points) know they need to avoid equaling that mark and take advantage of a remaining schedule that includes 15 home games and 10 road games to catch the Calgary Flames (74) and San Jose Sharks (73) in the Pacific Division.
“We’ve got to do a better job to get some wins in here,” defenseman Jon Merrill said.
Fewest shifts by Golden Knights player (2018-19)
*2: Max Pacioretty, Oct. 26 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (injury)
*4: Cody Eakin, Oct. 28 vs. Ottawa Senators (injury)
*6: Tomas Nosek, Feb. 9 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
*8: Valentin Zykov, Feb. 9 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
*8: Ryan Reaves, Feb. 5 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
*8: Max Pacioretty, Dec. 17 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (injury)