Having lost three straight, five in a row at home, and eight of 11, the reigning Jack Adams award winner, Gerard Gallant decided to get a bit radical and change up two forward lines and two defensive pairs.
When you are losing you have got to try new things, right? -Gallant
It didn’t take long to see the change he was looking for. Directly off the opening faceoff, playing with Deryk Engelland, Nate Schmidt took the puck, jumped up into the rush and created a scoring chance for the Golden Knights.
(Nate’s) legs move as quick as his mouth does and he’s at his best when he’s skating. -Deryk Engelland
Schmidt and Shea Theodore were both put in new positions on Saturday night. Not only playing with new linemates, but they were also each playing on the opposite side of the ice. It was the first time Schmidt has played on the left side while a member of the Golden Knights, and the first time Theodore had ever played the right side while in the NHL.
(In the) offensive zone I think it’s easier to get the puck to the net, but getting the puck D-to-D behind your net (in your own zone), you can’t really look up ice and you don’t really know what’s coming. It’s kind of a pros and cons thing. -Theodore
Re-watching the game, Schmidt and Theodore started a total of eight rushes into the offensive zone by skating the puck either out of their own zone and/or through the neutral zone. It’s not abnormal for either to do it, but five times for Schmidt and three for Theodore is certainly more than the norm.
You have to pick your spots, but as long as it’s not a high-risk play and the guy that is managing the puck as a defenseman you go out there and have to make sure he makes a strong play out of that. -Gallant
(Nate) was just absolutely flying tonight. I thought he was the fastest guy I’ve ever seen. I thought we were both just moving our feet. -Theodore
It made a huge difference in the way the Golden Knights played as a whole too. Vegas attempted an impressive 63 shot attempts with either Schmidt or Theodore on the ice, created 32 scoring chances and scored four of the five goals.
It wasn’t perfect, as there were certainly a few issues clearing the defensive zone, multiple stretch passes that were turned over in the neutral zone, and the breakdown between Schmidt and Engelland that led to the Nashville goal, but all in all, the swap worked incredibly well for the first go against a good team.
Schmidt and Engelland held the Predators top line of Victor Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen, and Filip Forsberg, one of the best in the NHL, off the scoresheet completely in over 12 minutes ice time, while Theodore and McNabb carried the load offensively being on the ice for three of the four even-strength goals and posting a dominant 68% Corsi For percentage.
Plus, aside from the impact it had inside of just that game, the Golden Knights picked up a bunch of roster flexibility they may not have known they had. They now have three defensemen who can play either side of a D-pair. Prior to Saturday night, they only had one, Nick Holden. Over the course of the first 59 games, only Holden had seen both sides of the ice, now, Theodore and Schmidt have, and had success.
We changed the pairs up a little bit tonight because we weren’t happy with the last four, five games. We thought it went really well tonight. So, we will see going forward, but I liked it a lot. -Gallant
All signs point to it remaining the plan heading into tonight’s game in Colorado.
We’ve been asking for more offense out of this team because they needed it. Maybe the answer was right there all along. Gallant needed to find it, and hopefully now he has with the pairings of Schmidt/Engelland and McNabb/Theodore jumpstarting the forwards.