Late in the first period of the Golden Knights’ 6-3 win over the visiting Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night, forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare fell into the boards awkwardly and eventually skated off the ice in pain.
Bellemare tried to get back out on the ice on two separate occasions, but quickly returned to the locker room both times.
Playing with 11 forwards isn’t ideal. The team has to rotate a different forward onto that line to take the injured player’s place on each shift, but the Golden Knights made it look easy.
“We just wait to hear our name called,” Bellemare’s linemate Ryan Carpenter said. “It can be hectic but we are so deep and have so many good players that whoever they throw on is going to contribute.”
Coach Gerard Gallant shuffled the team’s three healthy centers into Bellemare’s place throughout the game.
First it was Erik Haula, who jumped onto the ice and immediately found Tomas Nosek with a dazzling pass. Nosek fired the puck past Montreal goalie Carey Price to extend the Golden Knights’ lead to 3-1 at that point.
After Haula, Cody Eakin took the bulk of the minutes with the fourth line. The veteran center played nearly two minutes more than his season average of time on ice with 16:17.
“It’s part of the game,” Eakin said. “You don’t want to see a teammate go down and hopefully he’s alright, but I felt good and a little more ice time is always nice.”
Some teams might struggle in this situation, but the Golden Knights roster is deep enough that they relished it.
“They enjoy that,” Gallant said. “It’s not like you’re playing three lines. You’re rotating four lines and some guys that haven’t had as many minutes (get to play). They weren’t exhausted at all. They felt good and they enjoyed it.”
Not only did the pieced-together line stay afloat, they scored two goals and didn’t allow a goal while they were on the ice.
“It’s nice to be able to contribute that way,” said Carpenter, who scored his fifth goal in seven games. “I try to get in front of the net. When you play below the face off circles eventually you’re going to get pucks that bounce on your stick off of rebounds.”
Gallant said Bellemare’s injury is still being evaluated. He has been a key player for Vegas, both on the fourth line and the penalty kill, but the team appears to have the depth needed to replace him for the short term.
“Everyone kind of chipped in and rotated pretty well so it worked out pretty good,” Eakin said. “When guys go down, other guys step up and get an opportunity. We have more than enough capable guys to take on the extra minutes and do that.”