Gerard Gallant was searching Tuesday as he watched the Golden Knights practice, different options running through the coach’s mind, wondering what pieces might fit best to alter the course of things.
I would think much of his concern centered on the third line.
Specifically, its center.
I’ve never been a big change-for-the-sake-of-change guy, but the barren results produced by the line Cody Eakin has directed most of this young season more than demanded a new look.
Gallant obliged Wednesday and still the Knights lost, falling to Chicago 5–3 before 18,324 at T-Mobile Arena.
It’s the first time in eight tries the Blackhawks have emerged victorious against the Knights and came on an evening where Gallant had his blender on its highest setting when it came to the lines.
Eakin was moved to center a second line alongside Mark Stone and Jonathan Marchessault, which didn’t generate much of anything.
With the team’s best player and a front-liner moved down.
Eakin actually finished his last shift at 17:45 of the third before leaving.
“I heard he had a cramp,” Gallant said. “I don’t know much more.”
The most significant change came in the form of Alex Tuch, who for the second time this season returned from injury.
He skated on the third line with Paul Stastny at center and Cody Glass the other wing.
One person can make a world of difference, and Tuch owns such ability, his size and speed able to create time and space for linemates.
Tuch assisted on a first-period power-play goal Wednesday and then had what appeared to be his first goal reversed on replay in the second.
“(Tuch) is just so important to our entire team,” Stastny said. “He is kind of like that X factor, a wild card that brings so many different elements to the game. You saw it last year when he was hurt a little and now this one, how important he is to us.”
It was thought Tuch’s return might be the elixir to awaking Eakin’s game on a third line, although Gallant’s shuffling and Eakin’s, um, cramp, now leaves things uncertain at best when it comes to the impending unrestricted free agent.
You might remember last summer, when a popular query dealt with whether the Knights might possibly sell high on Eakin and move him before he entered the final year of a contract that pays $3.85 million annually.
They were likely never going to own more leverage in a possible deal for him, given Eakin was coming off a season that saw him post career highs in goals (22) and points (41). That leverage no longer exists.
The numbers are fairly overwhelming. He has struggled mightily in both zones, his Corsi and shot percentage among the league’s worst when ranking regular forwards. Eakin has no goals and three assists while playing to a minus-6 over his 16 games, the latter a team-worse offering.
He didn’t attempt a shot over 15 shifts and 11:44 of ice time against Chicago, winning just two of nine draws.
And now, he might be hurt.
Lots of issues
“(Eakin) had a tough start to the year, missing the first (four) games with injury,” Gallant said. “He was behind early. He has had scoring chances and just not put the puck in the net.”
Gallant thought about things Tuesday and then made some major moves 24 hours later, perhaps hoping a change of scenery on lines for Eakin might get him going.
But he couldn’t finish the game, and the Knights weren’t near disciplined enough defensively to beat Chicago, losing for a fourth straight time while now dropping six of their past seven.
Eakin is hardly the only issue ailing the Golden Knights, and many don’t appear easily fixable.
But he needs to be a whole lot better, if he’s even healthy enough to play following Wednesday’s early departure.
“It was a 3-2 hockey game after two periods, and I still felt good about our chances to win it,” Gallant said. “I fully expected us to make a push. You know what, before the game we talked about having positive energy and coming out and playing our game. After two periods, I was satisfied. A lot of good. Disappointed to lose, but that’s the way it is.”
Been that way for a good stretch now.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at email@example.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.