NEW YORK — Sometimes, one player’s misfortune turns into another’s opportunity for success. Or something like that.
Cody Eakin sustained an upper-body injury last Friday that’s going to keep him sidelined for a while. That created an opening at center for the Vegas Golden Knights and coach Gerard Gallant decided it was time to put Cody Glass back at his natural position.
The rookie centered Vegas’ third line playing with Alex Tuch and William Carrier as the Knights opened their three-game metropolitan area road trip Monday at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers. Though Glass didn’t factor in the two goals Tuch scored in a 2:16 span in the first period, he had an assist on Max Pacioretty’s second-period power-play goal. Most of all, Glass looked comfortable skating with Tuch and Carrier and they helped boost the Knights to a 4-1 win.
It was the third straight victory for Vegas, which plays Tuesday night in Newark against the New Jersey Devils, who were 7-1 losers Monday to the Sabres in Buffalo. Following the game, it was announced the Knights had acquired forward Chandler Stephenson from the Washington Capitals in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick in 2021.
Stephenson had three goals and an assist in 24 games with the Caps. He will join the team in New Jersey and to make room for Stephenson on the roster, the Knights assigned center Nicolas Roy to their AHL affiliate in Chicago.
But it was the third line center and his linemates who were the story Monday at the Garden.
“It was nice to be back (at center),” Glass said. “It’s my natural position and I think it was a good game for all of us.”
Glass may have officially returned to center after being listed as a wing for most of the year. But the reality is he’s been allowed to operate in the middle of the ice as Gallant wanted to let him attack and defend with room rather than battle it out along the boards. So he essentially has been playing center even though he wasn’t taking faceoffs.
Monday, he was in the circle and he was more than holding his own. Glass finished the night 4 for 8 on draws.
“I felt really good today, especially playing with Willie and Tuchie,” Glass said. “It makes it a lot easier on myself when they’re both playing with speed. If I can distribute the puck as best i can, I’m doing my job.
Tuch said the move to add Carrier to the line and move Glass into the middle worked well.
“Playing with Will really matches my speed really well,” Tuch said. “I thought we were working hard and looking for each other.
“It sometimes takes a little bit of time to settle in. But Will’s such an easy player to play with. It’s a lot of fun and it’s real easy. We’re making sure (Glass) keeps up with us.”
The Knights used their speed effectively as the Rangers were allowing Vegas to break out and transition from defense to offense with little impunity. That didn’t sit well with the Garden crowd of 16,325 who have watched their team play inconsistent hockey since opening night and have lingered near the bottom of the Metropolitan Division standings.
At one point, it was 4-0 Vegas as Reilly Smith’s breakaway goal in the second period gave him bragging rights over his brother Brendan, who plays for the Rangers. That was followed 1:36 later as Pacioretty took Glass’s pretty setup and beat Henrik Lundqvist.
“He made a great pass to Patch,” Gallant said of Glass’ feed to Pacioretty. “He’s a young player, but he’s got good skill and good vision.”
New York ended Malcolm Subban’s shutout bid with 4:45 left in the second period when Brendan Lemieux redirected Jacob Trouba’s shot from the top of the right circle to cut the Knights’ lead to 4-1. But Subban looked strong and he turned aside the other 29 shoots he faced as he remained the starter while Marc-Andre Fleury remains away from the team as he deals with the recent death of his father, who passed away last Wednesday.
Subban and the penalty killing units delivered early in the third period when Shea Theodore and Pacioretty were whistled for back-to-back minor infractions. But the Rangers were unable to take advantage and it was a key moment.
“They’ve got a dangerous power play and now with (Mika) Zibanejad back,” Gallant said. “But our PK did a good job and that was the difference.”
But the really big thing to come out of Monday for the Golden Knights was the play of the third line. Gallant could tell Glass was a different player out there skating with Tuch and Carrier.
“I think so,” he said when asked if this is the highest Glass’ confidence has been. “He had a dry spell earlier in the season but he looked really good tonight. And it helps when he’s playing center ice. He feels comfortable at center and when he gets his chance there, he’s taking advantage of it.”