Reaves bolstering Vegas’ fourth line with smarter play

LAS VEGAS — After his first two games with the Vegas Golden Knights in late February, there weren’t many fans who were happy with Ryan Reaves.

He arrived from Pittsburgh and immediately made his presence known with six penalty minutes in a home-and-home series against Los Angeles, both losses. The Vegas faithful thought team chemistry was ruined.

“Ruin the whole team, yeah?” Reaves joked Tuesday as Vegas prepared for Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final against Washington. “I apologize to Vegas.”

Vegas wasn’t the only one he apologized to. Reaves immediately went to coach Gerard Gallant after those Kings games to acknowledge that while he didn’t necessarily agree with the penalties, he also would not be taking silly penalties and disrupt what Gallant and general manager George McPhee worked hard to build.

“He was up front, and he took responsibility, but I said, ‘Just play your game, that’s why we got you, to play your game and work hard’ and he’s been excellent ever since,” Gallant said Tuesday. “He doesn’t take penalties, he really doesn’t.”

Reaves believes it’s been his on-ice intelligence and hockey IQ that has made him an effective teammate over nine seasons in St. Louis, Pittsburgh and now Vegas, where he’s since become a crowd favourite.

“My fights have gone down every year,” Reaves said. “I only had six this year and all within the first two or three months (with Pittsburgh). I think there’s always going to be physical play in this league, and as long as I can keep up and and be able to catch guys and do it in a way that’s not hurting the team, then yeah, I think I got a spot here.”

Especially after scoring what may have been the biggest goals in franchise history.

In Game 5 of the Western Conference Final in his hometown of Winnipeg, Reaves scored the game-winning goal that sent the Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final. And in Game 1 against the Capitals on Monday, he scored the game-tying goal before linemate Tomas Nosek put the game-winner past Braden Holtby in a 6-4 victory that gave Vegas a 1-0 series lead.

“Playoff hockey you have to be a little smarter, you got to be a little faster, everything is kind of magnified,” Reaves said. “I think at this time of the year the details have to be there for sure.”

Since Reaves was re-inserted into the lineup midway through the second round of the playoffs, the fourth line has clicked more often than not.

Shedding his overly aggressive tactics, Reaves has adapted to playing Vegas’ simple north-south game, while learning how to make the right decisions and build chemistry with Nosek and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. The trio is proving it can be just as important as the Golden Knights’ top line of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith, and that has become extremely dangerous for teams to defend.

“I think we just try to outwork whoever we’re playing against,” Bellemare said. “It won’t maybe work this well every night, but we get the payoff from hard work. Sometimes we can’t explain why suddenly everything clicks. But we are at the right spot at the right time and it worked for my wingers and me. Maybe your fourth line won’t change the game every single game, but when they do it sure helps.”

And while Nosek’s two goals in Game 1 against the Capitals extended his point streak to three games, he said it doesn’t matter who scores or tallies points, because it’s never been about individuals on the Golden Knights.

“That’s what we’ve done the whole year, 20 guys on the ice and off the ice,” Nosek said “We support each other. On our (line), we just try to create some chaos in front of the net, go hard to the net and get some forecheck going, that’s how we roll, and it was good last night. It doesn’t matter who scored the goals either way, we are a team and victory is the most important thing.”

W.G. Ramirez, The Associated Press

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