DETROIT — William Karlsson’s between-the-legs dangle to set up Valentin Zykov for the tying goal Tuesday is the play many will remember from the Golden Knights’ thrilling win at Tampa Bay.
And rightfully so.
But there was another moment from that game involving Karlsson that was significant in a larger context.
A little more than two minutes into the overtime, Karlsson picked up the puck in the neutral zone, avoided Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov at the blue line and skated down the right wing with Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman in pursuit.
Rather than send a backhand toward the net, Karlsson avoided Hedman’s poke-check by tucking the puck between his legs while at full speed and tried to shoot.
Sure, he ended up whiffing. That’s not the point.
For a player whose confidence has wavered at times, the fact Karlsson even tried such an audacious move in OT is a positive development for the Knights.
“I think if I pulled it off, I might have scored. I don’t think anyone saw it coming,” Karlsson said. “It was too bad I fanned on it. … But I was feeling it at the end of the game there, and I want to give the fans at least one stick-between-the-legs goal.”
Karlsson scored on a similar bold, through-the-legs move against San Jose last season when he was able to play with a quiet fearlessness.
But that trait was rarely on display until Tuesday, as Karlsson has struggled to duplicate his 43-goal, 35-assist output.
Entering Thursday’s matchup against the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena, Karlsson had three points in the past 14 games.
“He’s playing hard, he’s playing well. But the bottom line is, these guys want points,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “And they did it last year and they know they can do it. They’ve just got to get going and keep playing hard, and it’s going to come. (Tuesday) night was a confident game for him, so it’s a step in the right direction.”
Karlsson is third on the team with 33 points in 55 games and is on pace for a 24 goals and 25 assists. That would be a more-than-respectable total had he not set the bar so high last season.
Part of the reason for the dip in production is Karlsson’s shooting percentage. After converting on 23.4 percent of his shots last season, he is down to 14.2 percent, which is still above the league average of approximately 10 percent.
“We know that for guys like me and Karly, I think it’s just a matter of time that we’re going to show up,” linemate Jonathan Marchessault said. “But we just need to stay patient and work hard and see where it brings us.”
Karlsson was unable to agree on a long-term contract with the Knights last summer and will be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights after the season. But he said that hasn’t been a distraction.
“Obviously it’s there in the back of my head, to be honest, but it’s nothing that I can blame to weigh me down because it’s not why I haven’t scored as much this year,” Karlsson said. “It’s up to myself really. I think it’s more on me that I haven’t produced like I have last year.”
Karlsson’s play on a give-and-go with Zykov against Tampa Bay could be what he needs to get going offensively.
Zykov’s pass was slightly behind Karlsson, but he slid the puck between his legs to get around Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn and threw a no-look pass across the slot for Zykov to bury into the open net.
”It was good for the confidence to get that assist,” Karlsson said. “Hopefully I can bring that into the next game and keep working from there and try to be a producing player again.”
Who: Golden Knights at Red Wings
When: 4:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
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: Lightning -153; total 6
1. Build off win. To a man, the Knights believed a victory over Tampa Bay would be what they needed to snap out of their recent skid. They came away with the two points and now have a chance to finish their four-game road trip at .500.
2. Who are you? The Red Wings, who moved out of the Atlantic Division cellar thanks to a three-game win streak, are the only team the Knights haven’t faced this season. Without that familiarity, the Knights will be best served to keep things simple and use their speed as much as possible.
3. Larkin update. Detroit could have its leading scorer back. Dylan Larkin, who missed Saturday’s game against Ottawa with a strained oblique muscle, practiced Wednesday for the first time since being injury. Coach Jeff Blashill indicated Larkin will be a game-time decision.