Updated June 18, 2021 - 5:14 pm
The Golden Knights are making a major switch in the middle for Game 3 of their NHL semifinal against the Montreal Canadiens on Friday at the Bell Centre.
Alex Tuch is moving to first-line center while Chandler Stephenson remains out with an upper-body injury. Tuch, a natural wing, played one regular-season game at center for the Knights. He said it was the first time he played in the middle since he was 16 or 17.
Tuch does provide the same speed up the middle that Stephenson does, which is one of the things that made Stephenson so effective with left wing Max Pacioretty and right wing Mark Stone.
“I think Patch and Stone are used to playing with a fast center coming through the middle with a lot of speed,” right wing Reilly Smith said Friday morning. “I’m sure that’s something our coaching staff is looking for. … (Tuch’s) kind of like that X factor. You can slot him into any position, and he’ll be pretty productive.”
One thing to monitor in Tuch’s game will be his faceoffs. Draws don’t have a massive impact on wins and losses, but it would help the Knights if their top line wasn’t chasing the puck all night.
Tuch has won 39.5 percent of his 337 career faceoffs. Stephenson won 50.4 percent of his draws this season. Canadiens center Phillip Danault, an excellent defensive player who will likely match up against Tuch’s line, has won 53.1 percent of his career faceoffs.
Taking draws will be one of the only key differences for Tuch at center. The Knights play a fluid style and designate responsibilities on how they enter the zone rather than by position.
“The way we play particularly, they’re interchangeable,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “In all three zones as far as responsibility goes it’s not an issue.”
Tuch moving up shifted Keegan Kolesar back to third-line right wing. The Knights also inserted Tomas Nosek at fourth-line center for the first time since Game 2 against Minnesota in place of Patrick Brown.
Montreal made no changes after its 3-2 win in Game 2 on Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena.
Here’s what the Knights’ lineup looks like:
Max Pacioretty-Alex Tuch-Mark Stone
Jonathan Marchessault-William Karlsson-Reilly Smith
Mattias Janmark-Nicolas Roy-Keegan Kolesar
William Carrier-Tomas Nosek-Ryan Reaves
Alec Martinez-Alex Pietrangelo
Brayden McNabb-Shea Theodore
Nick Holden-Zach Whitecloud
Here’s what the Canadiens’ lineup look like:
Artturi Lehkonen-Phillip Danault-Brendan Gallagher
Tyler Toffoli-Nick Suzuki-Cole Caufield
Paul Byron-Jesperi Kotkaniemi-Josh Anderson
Joel Armia-Eric Staal-Corey Perry
Ben Chiarot-Shea Weber
Joel Edmundson-Jeff Petry
Erik Gustafsson-Jon Merrill