Thursday, April 19, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Many Golden Knights players were impressive during their first-round sweep over the Los Angeles Kings.
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury had a historically-good series in net, and the seven goals for Vegas were scored by seven different players. But above all, general manager George McPhee was impressed by coach Gerard Gallant and his staff.
“To sit in on some of the video sessions was impressive,” McPhee said. “To watch them talk about what we needed to do, and to do it quickly, succinctly and clearly from the players was excellent.”
Vegas played the Kings four times in the regular season, splitting the games 2-2, and clearly made adjustments heading into the postseason.
“Our coaching staff was very good,” McPhee said. “Obviously we know all about Turk but his staff is outstanding as well.”
The coaching staff’s ability to make in-game adjustments may have been one of the biggest determining factors of the series. Los Angeles outplayed the Golden Knights during the first period in three of the four games, but Vegas eventually figured things out and finished the game strong to come out on top.
That’s partially Gallant, assistant coaches Mike Kelly, Ryan Craig, Ryan McGill and David Prior, and video coach Tommy Cruz making adjustments, but it’s also a product of the way Gallant spreads the players’ ice time.
“Turk is deploying players the same way he did in the regular season,” McPhee said. “Everybody plays, and it really shows a belief in players and how much ice time they all get, and in the matchups. We will play our third pair defensemen or our third or fourth line forwards against another team’s top line. It doesn’t matter. It’s just who we are and what we are.”
All season Gallant has played his third and fourth lines more than every team in the NHL, which allows top line players like William Karlsson, Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault to remain fresh. It also gives fourth-liners confidence that they may not have for other coaching staffs.
“Every coach is very different and getting to know Gerard and playing for him, he’s very fair,” forward James Neal said. “If you work and compete for him like he says you’ll get your ice time. He wants to win. Guys came from teams that maybe the coach was hard on them or they didn’t get the chance or the ice time, and they got that chance here. Turk is very fair with giving you chances to play and if you make a mistake he might say something to you on the bench but two seconds later he’s sending you out there again.”
The confidence Gallant injects into his players allows them to do things like Karlsson’s between-the-legs shorthanded goal to clinch the Pacific Division on March 31.
“I think by Turk really showing that kind of belief in his guys, and he’s done it all year long,” McPhee said. “I think the players find that there is a lot of trust in them and a lot of confidence, and it builds.”
Gallant’s player-friendly style has built a chemistry between a group of players that had never played together faster than anyone imagined possible.
“It really comes down to building the front office and the scouting staff the right way, and establishing the right culture before you start putting players on the ice,” McPhee said. “I think you win off the ice before you win on the ice, and there was a real emphasis on that.
“We wanted the best human talent we could find for every position in the organization but it had to go beyond that, to be the right kind of people. Hard working, low-ego people and it matters.”