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Knights get offensive breakout from unexpected source

Updated November 24, 2022 - 3:14 pm

William Carrier said he blacked out.

Standing in front of his locker stall Wednesday, he couldn’t even describe one of the best goals of his career more than an hour after he pulled it off. He said he needed to watch it again to see what happened.

Whenever he does give it a second viewing, it will probably lead to a third. And a fourth. And a fifth. That’s how impressive and mesmerizing a play it was.

Carrier, entering the offensive zone 1-on-3 against the Ottawa Senators, drove between two defenders, shifted the puck to his forehand while losing his balance and chipped a shot past goaltender Cam Talbot in an incredible sequence.

It was also the cherry on top of what’s been a fantastic start for the 27-year-old. Carrier has been scoring this season like never before, both in quantity and quality.

“I’ve been hot right now, so the confidence is high and our line is playing pretty well,” Carrier said. “We’re on a little bit of a roll.”

Carrier has been with the Knights since the beginning. Offense has never been his calling card in that time.

Speed. Grit. Tenacity. Those were the hallmarks of his straight-line, direct game rather than spectacular skill. He forechecked hard and provided a physical presence. Any level of scoring was a bonus.

Coach Bruce Cassidy has changed the ask this season. He’s relied on Carrier’s line with center Nicolas Roy and right wing Keegan Kolesar — or center Brett Howden the last three games with Roy injured — to start games and create a spark.

The group is listed as the fourth line, but by time on ice per game, Roy ranks eighth on the team among forwards. Kolesar is ninth and Carrier is 10th. Cassidy is handing them a larger role and confidence is flowing as a result. It’s also changing the way the line plays.

Carrier, who was seventh in the NHL in hits per 60 minutes his first four seasons with the Knights, is trying to throw his body around less knowing he’s going to play more.

“We’ve been known to try to carry momentum and try to get it back,” Carrier said. “Before it used to be hits and a good forecheck. Now we’re trying to get the big goals right after they score just to get the team going again.”

The mentality has the former second-round pick on pace for the best offensive season of his career.

Carrier — who had his first two-goal game Monday against Vancouver — has seven goals and 10 points in 20 games this season. His career highs are nine goals and 20 points.

Carrier ranks third on the Knights in points per 60 minutes at five-on-five (2.7), behind only center Jack Eichel (2.89) and left wing Chandler Stephenson (2.74), according to the website Natural Stat Trick.

He’s playing so well Cassidy has stuck him on the second power-play unit the last two games with Roy out. And, despite the increased production, Carrier is keeping things simple.

“He goes to the net, gets rebounds,” Cassidy said. “He does that every night. He’s in front of there getting some chances. He understands how he has to score as well as anyone I’ve ever coached.”

Carrier’s success is, in many ways, a perfect example of why the Knights have the Western Conference’s best record on Thanksgiving. They’re getting help from everyone. He’s their 10th player with at least 10 points. No other team in the NHL has that kind of depth scoring.

That’s because few clubs have a fourth-line forward capable of delivering a goal like Carrier’s Wednesday. He’s getting to show off his offensive gifts this year, which is making longtime teammates like defenseman Brayden McNabb happy.

“He’s one of the strongest guys in the league,” McNabb said. “He can put you through the boards and he’s really good at driving wide and getting to the net. If you look at it over the years and how many chances he’s had, now they’re starting to go in for him. It’s good to see.”

Contact Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.

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