NEW YORK — The loss of Jack Eichel and William Karlsson figured to leave Jonathan Marchessault lost when it came time to set him up for scoring opportunities.
And for a while, it appeared Marchessault was going to disappear on the scoresheet. He was slumping and gripping the stick a little tightly.
But Vegas Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy made one of his patented hunches. He moved Nicolas Roy from the fourth line to the top line with Marchessault and Ivan Barbashev.
The trio began to click. The Knights started winning again and Marchessault, who is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, has regained his touch.
He has scored in five of his last six games and Friday he registered the fifth hat trick of his career, including his team-high 25th goal, to help Vegas defeat the New York Rangers 5-2 at Madison Square Garden. The win, the team’s second straight on this four-game road trip which concludes Saturday in Detroit against the Red Wings, guaranteed Vegas a successful trip as it garnered points for the sixth straight game and the Knights improved to 6-1-1 in their last eight.
“I hadn’t had a lot of luck for a while,” Marchessault said. “I think I went nine, 10 games without scoring. But now the puck’s going in for me and we’re winning so hopefully I can keep it going.”
Marchessault said the more Roy plays on the line with he and Barbashev, the more comfortable everyone is getting being together.
“(Roy’s) a very skilled player,” Marchessault said of Roy, who had a pair of assists Friday. “He sees the ice well and I think we’re just trying to keep it simple, and it’s working for us.”
Cassidy said filling in for Eichel, who was the team’s top scorer before he got hurt Jan. 13 against Boston, wasn’t going to be easy, regardless who he put in his place. But Roy’s game of being able to play with the puck in tight spaces and make good reads in finding his teammates has allowed the line to generate offense.
“You never know how it’s going to work out,” Cassidy said. “You obviously hope for the best. But you can see they’re doing a lot of good things. They look for each other and they seem comfortable playing together.”
Roy said that when you go from being a fourth-line center whose primary goals to check and pressure the other team to being a first-liner whose skills come into play more is an adjustment.
“Those guys (Marchessault and Barbashev) make it easy,” Roy said. “It’s been great for me.”
Friday, Keegan Kolesar, Roy’s former linemate, delivered a huge goal to give Vegas back the lead as he beat Igor Shesterkin 3:18 into the second period with a hard wrist shot from inside the left circle over his glove and in for a 2-1 lead. Forty-six seconds later, Marchessault scored the first of his three goals to give the Knights a 3-1 lead.
“Nobody was expecting that,” Kolesar said of his shot which yielded his fourth goal of the season. “Usually, all of my goals are dirty, deflections in front of the net. But it was good to get one and get us back in the lead.”
And once the Knights regained the lead, Adin Hill made sure they stayed in front. The goaltender stopped 37 of the 39 shots he faced to improve to 12-2-2.
“I was seeing the puck good and the guys in front of me did a good job,” Hill said. “I felt good and it’s great to be back on the ice contributing.”
Hill stopped 40 shots in Tuesday’s 3-2 win over the Islanders so 77 saves in two games have helped him get re-adjusted to being in the crease.
“We’ve faced two good teams the last couple of games,” he said of his return. I didn’t prepare special or anything. Just my normal prep and I was ready to go.”
The Knights have a chance to finish the trip with seven out of a possible eight points if they can beat the Red Wings Saturday night in Detroit. They may be without Pavel Dorofeyev who sustained an upper-body injury in the second period and did not return. But Michael Amadio is expected to be cleared to be in the lineup against the Red Wings, who are 7-2-1 in their last 10 and are in the hunt for a playoff spot.
The Wings will no doubt have to keep close tabs on Roy, Marchessault and Barbashev. And especially No. 81, who is wielding a hot stick and would be good enough to participate in next weekend’s NHL All-Star Game in Toronto.
Currently, the Knights do not have a representative in the festivities as Eichel is out following surgery and was replaced by Winnipeg’s Kyle Connor. But if another spot were to open up, Marchessault, an All-Star in 2022, said to pick someone else.
“We’re taking the family back (to Quebec) for vacation,” he said.