To paraphrase sportscaster Dan Patrick, you can’t stop the top line of the Vegas Golden Knights. You can only hope to contain it.
Jack Eichel, making his first postseason appearance, leads the team with 22 points and has leveled up defensively. Jonathan Marchessault has scored 12 goals in his past 12 games and is a leading candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy.
And then there’s Ivan Barbashev, who has turned out to be the most impactful pickup of the NHL trade deadline. Since coming over from the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 26, Barbashev has 12 goals and 33 points in 42 regular-season and playoff games. The Barbashev-Eichel-Marchessault line has outscored opponents 27-12 at 5-on-5, including 14-4 in the playoffs and 2-0 against the Florida Panthers through two games of the Stanley Cup Final. (All it cost the Golden Knights to acquire Barbashev was forward prospect Zach Dean, the 30th overall pick of the 2021 draft.)
“He’s been a beast for us,” Golden Knights forward Brett Howden told reporters Monday after the team’s 7-2 win. “He’s so strong on the puck. He’s such a reliable player. Ever since (getting) here, you can just see he’s (been) a really big presence for us.”
Barbashev’s physicality was on full display in the opening minutes of Game 2 on Monday when he flattened imposing Panthers defenceman Radko Gudas, knocking him out for the rest of the game (and possibly longer). It was the heaviest of his 59 hits this postseason, fourth-most among forwards.
Barbashev, who won the Stanley Cup with the Blues in 2019, is no stranger to sharing the ice with high-end players. Before the trade from St. Louis, Barbashev played alongside Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas, among others, so it is no surprise that he is gelling with Eichel and Marchessault.
His net-front presence has been invaluable; nearly 82 per cent of Barbashev’s 5-on-5 shot attempts have come from the slot (27 of 33), ranking first out of 95 forwards who have played a minimum of 100 minutes in the playoffs. He has scored four of his five goals at 5-on-5 from the inner slot — tied for second most in the playoffs behind Marchessault (8).
Barbashev is also an accurate passer, completing 19 of his 34 passes to the slot at 5-on-5 (55.9 per cent). The average completion percentage among qualified forwards is around 38 per cent.
In less than a month, Barbashev will hit the free-agent market, possibly as a two-time Stanley Cup champion. He will be a hot commodity.
“You know what (you’re getting) from Ivan every game,” Marchessault told reporters. “I think that’s one of the best qualities to have as a hockey player, that consistency. That’s what he has.”
All stats via Sportlogiq