TORONTO — The Golden Knights have four players competing for a spot on the third line, leaving coach Gerard Gallant with another difficult lineup decision.
Tomas Hyka made it an easy choice.
The 25-year-old winger from the Czech Republic earned the nod on the third line Tuesday in a 3-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena.
Ryan Carpenter joined fellow forward Oscar Lindberg and defenseman Deryk Engelland as scratches.
“There’s no reason to take (Hyka) out,” Gallant said after the team’s morning skate. “He’s played well. He’s worked hard. He’s a guy that creates a lot of offensive chances every game for us. I like what he’s brought.”
Hyka filled in for injured wing Max Pacioretty on the second line the past four games and notched his first assist in Saturday’s 3-0 victory over Carolina at T-Mobile Arena.
Pacioretty returned to the second line against the Maple Leafs, bumping Hyka to the third line with winger Tomas Nosek and center Cody Eakin.
“It’s a big step for me, obviously from last year almost being here at the beginning of the season,” Hyka said. “I’m getting a lot of ice time and a chance for the power play. It’s a good opportunity for me to show the coaches and the team that I can play here. I’m just trying to do my best.”
The Knights have received little in the way of offense from their third line.
Eakin had one point in his past seven games until scoring the Knights’ lone goal in their 3-1 loss Tuesday.
Carpenter has two assists and a minus-7 rating in 13 games, and Nosek has not recorded a point in his past seven appearances since scoring Oct. 11 at Pittsburgh.
Hyka, meanwhile, is coming off one of his best showings. He has a plus-3 rating in nine games since being called up from the American Hockey League on Oct. 11.
“Obviously I felt really good last game,” Hyka said. “We had a lot of chances and I felt really good, made some plays and had some scoring chances. I think my game’s getting better and better.”
Said Gallant: “I guess he hasn’t got the points we wanted, but he’s getting chances and you can’t fault the guy. Every night he’s getting two or three chances or setting up two or three. He’s getting an opportunity, and he’s trying to take advantage of it.”
Gallant woke up Tuesday morning to the news that longtime Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was fired and said it was “pretty shocking.”
Quenneville is the second-winningest coach of all time and won three Stanley Cups in his 10-plus seasons in Chicago. The club was off to a .500 start (6-6-3) after missing the playoffs last spring.
“Obviously Joel Quenneville is at the top of the head coaching pedigree, and it’s too bad,” Gallant said. “It’s a part of our business, and we all understand that, but it was real tough.”
Engelland did not play against the Maple Leafs and returned home to Las Vegas on Tuesday.
The Knights cited personal reasons for Engelland’s absence and posted on their official Twitter account that the defenseman’s son was ill.
Gallant said after the game that Engelland could rejoin the team during its four-game road trip.
Engelland is out of the lineup tonight (personal matter — son’s illness)
Merrill takes his spot & Theodore will be paired with Holden
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) November 6, 2018