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Offseason Outlook: Defensemen

Through the course of the playoffs, the surprise unit for the Golden Knights were the defensemen. They completely shut down the Kings, they stifled the Sharks, and they bent but didn’t break against the Jets. Then, in the Stanley Cup Final, it kind of fell apart for the Vegas blueliners.

So, as we head into the offseason the burning question for George McPhee and the Golden Knights front office is whether or not they need to add to bolster their defense or of the missing piece is already on the roster.

Here’s a look at who the Golden Knights currently have under their control.

Nate looks like he’s become a star in the NHL. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Established and Signed
Brayden McNabb, Nate Schmidt, Deryk Engelland, Jon Merrill, Brad Hunt

While this list contains 310 games played and three players who played all 20 playoff games, there are really only two fully reliable options as full-time starters moving into 2018-19. McNabb and Schmidt are expected to be stalwarts on the Golden Knights blue line this season and moving forward. They may not be paired together again next season, but they’ll certainly be in the top four.

Engelland is a bit of a mystery as he probably had the best season of his career at the age of 35. The question is can he continue playing at that consistent level as he heads into the final few seasons of his career.

Then there are Merrill and Hunt. Hunt is a player that’s bounced around the NHL and AHL and has never really gotten a full-time shot to prove himself. The reason for that is because he’s a bit of a liability defensively due to his size. He’ll have to play well in camp once again to make the roster, but even if he doesn’t, Hunt will be a good option in the event that a puck-moving defenseman becomes unavailable during the season. Merrill is a bit of a different story as he’s more of a defensive-minded player but has the ability to pinch in and help out offensively. The Golden Knights signed Merrill to an extension last season which indicates they believe in him, but it’s still not probable that he’s a 60+ game defenseman next season.

Established and under VGK control
Colin Miller, Shea Theodore

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The One Where Nate Schmidt Is Still On The Caps

Sorry Washington, the pick is Schmidt, and there’s nothing you can do about it. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Nate Schmidt has quietly, unless you are anywhere within earshot of him physically, become one of the best defensemen in the entire NHL. He is relied upon each and every night to shut down the opposition’s top line and throughout the postseason he has two goals, four assists, a +7 rating and has taken just one penalty.

He’s a player any team would love to have. At this time last year, the Washington Capitals had him, and if they had it their way, they would have never lost him in the Expansion Draft.

We made our selection, and then (Capitals GM Brian MacLellan) called and asked if there’s any way we could do a deal for him to get Schmidt back, and I said, I don’t see anything, but we’ll try to come up with something to give you a chance to say no. So we made a proposal that I didn’t think would work, and it didn’t work because our guys like Schmidt. So we overreached on the ask, and that’s the way it went. -George McPhee

Yeah, in a couple discussions, I don’t think they fully disclosed who they were going to take, and they brought up a couple names that they were thinking about. And as we progressed, at some point they said we’re going to go with Schmidt. So I tried to get deals done to protect Schmidt, and it just didn’t make sense for what they were asking. So consequently, we had to let him go. -Brian MacLellan

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Golden Knights Ability To Force Errors Continues To Leave Opponents Shaking Their Heads

They’ll call the Golden Knights opportunistic. They say Vegas capitalizes on others mistakes, and they’ll throw out quotes like this…

We win that game nine times out of 10. Tonight was the one. -Blake Wheeler, Jets captain

Those terms don’t resonate for the Golden Knights though because they don’t believe dumb luck is what’s making it happen.

Sometimes you create your own bounces. -Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

You go do what you can on your shift, and you rely on the next guy to go do his job on his shift, and hopefully that wear and tear will eventually push them into making a play they don’t want to make. Nate Schmidt

This is a look many goaltenders have had at T-Mobile Arena. It’s a look of confusion, but it shouldn’t be.  (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Vegas is tenacious on the forecheck, they hound teams in the neutral zone, they transition from defense to offense faster than any team in the NHL, they roll four dangerous lines and three solid d-pairings, and they have high-end talent that finish the chances when they come.

This isn’t a mirage, this is a darn good hockey team and it doesn’t take much to end up on the wrong side of the result when teams play against them.

Most people will call the mishaps of the Jets, Sharks, and Kings mistakes, but it’s probably best to call them something else. “Forced errors” is the term that popped into my head, but if you’ve got a better one let me hear it. No matter what we call them though, the Golden Knights are the best in the league at creating them.

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The Difference Between You And Nate Schmidt In Regards To Getting Over Game 2

When Game 2 ended the Golden Knights universe was in a rage. Players were upset about the letting a game get away, coach was mad about the penalties, and fans were up in arms about the inconsistencies of the goaltender interference call. Everyone connected to the Golden Knights felt the series should have been 2-0, but instead it was 1-1.

When the sun came back up on Sunday, the universe had calmed, but not all parties. Players, they had moved on. Coach, he was ready for Game 3. Fans, well, they may never get over it.

One day I’ll get to watch a Vikings game with Nate, that’ll be fun. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

So I wondered, why is it that the people in the building can get over it just a few hours later but fans cannot. Is this what makes them special and allows them to make millions of dollars playing/coaching a sport while the rest of us sit back and watch? Is it that fans are just irrational? Or is it something different? So I found the guy I thought would have the best answer to this question, diehard Minnesota Vikings football fan and Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt.

Schmidt knows both sides. He knows the heartbreak of watching his favorite team be wronged as he sits on the couch watching and he also knows what it’s like to be on the ice for a game-winning goal, only to have it taken away. First, we talked about it from the player perspective.

You can’t let it get to you because if you do, they’re already in your head. Because if you don’t get over the fact that the game continues to go on. If you give the ‘woah is me, I can’t believe that’s the call,’ then all of a sudden the next wave of attack comes and you’re on your heels. -Nate Schmidt

In other words, you let it go or you lose. He admits, though, it’s not the same as a fan.

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Better Effort Expected From San Jose, But It Still Won’t Be Enough

The Golden Knights scored four goals in the first period, three inside of a 91-second span, and continued sticking it to the San Jose Sharks for a majority of the 60 minutes of Game 1 resulting in a dominant 7-0 win.

We can’t play a better game than we played last night. We played a terrific game. -Gerard Gallant

It’s hard to disagree with the Jack Adams finalist. Pretty much every facet of the game outside of taking penalties (which they killed every one) the Golden Knights were great. It looked as if one team was playing at a different speed as the other, which is a great sign for the Golden Knights as the series progresses. However, the same lackluster start for the Sharks is not to be expected in Game 2, or at least so say the Golden Knights.

Definitely tomorrow they are going to come out strong and we are going to see the real San Jose Sharks, and we’ve got to be ready for that. -Jonathan Marchessault

I expect a lot more push from the beginning. I think we caught them a little off guard with our speed. -Nate Schmidt

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Nate Schmidt And Erik Haula: A Love Story Made For The Golden Knights

As the gathered media waited in the locker room inside Staples Center each Golden Knights player came in one at a time. Fleury walked through wearing a pair of Euro style tight jeans, Neal appeared in fancy sneakers, and Bellemare walked in wearing spandex that were a little too short for comfort. Then, in walked Nate Schmidt. Like always he was wearing a giant smile and laughing at anyone who wanted to laugh with him. He was also wearing sandals, but they didn’t match, the left foot was his own sandal marked with a little sticker with the number 88 on it, on the other foot was a sandal he “stole” because he couldn’t find his. It was that of his best friend on the team, Erik Haula, and it was an image that couldn’t have been more perfect for the story I was there to write.

There are many strong pairs of friends on this team. Alex Tuch and Shea Theodore live together, and Jonathan Marchessault and David Perron hit it off before training camp and became even closer on 1 October, but there’s not a friendship quite like Haula and Schmidt.

Erik Haula moved from Finland to the U.S. when he was 16. He attended high school in Faribault, Minnesota before going on to college at the University of Minnesota. While there, his roommate was Nate Schmidt.

Haula wound up on the Minnesota Wild while Schmidt ended up in Washington D.C. to begin their NHL careers, but that didn’t mean they didn’t keep in touch.

We had played in college, we played on softball teams together in the Summer, we’d work out in the same gym… although he’d show up a little later than I did. -Nate Schmidt

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Matching D-Pairings With Top Offensive Lines Worked In Game 1 For VGK

Schmidt vs. Kopitar. Engelland vs. Carter. Round 1 went to Vegas. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

If you ask All Star head coach Gerard Gallant if he likes to match lines he usually responds with some sort of quip about how he’s not smart enough to make it happen. Instead, he prefers to roll four lines and attempt to let his guys play their game and force the opponent to match them.

However, on the other side of the ice, it’s a different story. For much of the year Nate Schmidt and his partner (Brayden McNabb or Luca Sbisa) have drawn the best offensive line of the opposing team. Last night was no different as Schmidt/McNabb were on the ice for a majority of their time against the Kopitar, Brown, Iafallo line. The difference for the Golden Knights is that they didn’t just limit the defensive matching to one line, they did it with the Jeff Carter line as well. Deryk Engelland and Shea Theodore were matched up heavily on the Kings second line and did well shutting them down.

Schmidt and McNabb played nearly 13 total minutes against Kopitar and managed a positive Corsi For of 57.69 and only allowed four even strength goal scoring chances in that time. Engelland and Theodore did just as well in the 12 minutes they saw against Carter with a slightly above 50% Corsi For and only two scoring chances against.

You hope you are going to get those matchups as much as possible. It doesn’t happen every time and I’m not a guy who is going to yell at our guys to change right away when you get a non-matchup line. You just do the best you can as coaches. -Gerard Gallant

This matching also has an offensive benefit for the Golden Knights. Colin Miller and Jon Merrill both posted 60+% Corsi For and spent a majority of their ice time in the offensive zone, where Gallant wants them.

All in all, the Golden Knights did well in getting the right players on the ice against the right Kings, and it worked like a charm in Game 1.

News And Notes From VGK vs CBJ

These two weren’t playing together, but they both played well. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Bounce Back for D

  • Brayden McNabb and Deryk Engelland played a big role shutting down the Devils young, quick forwards.
    • McNabb TOI – 24:55, 11 Hits, 11 Defensive Zone Starts, -1 Rating
    • Engelland TOI – 24:27, 3 Hits, 10 Defensive Zone Starts, +1 Rating, 1 Goal
  • Golden Knights allowed less than 10 “High Danger” scoring chances for the first time in their last six games.

Ending the Losing Streak

The victory ended the Golden Knights three-game skid. Along with eight other teams, Vegas hasn’t dropped four straight games this season. All eight teams are playoff contenders.

Minnesota: (1) 3 game losing streak
Nashville: (1) 3 game losing streak
Tampa: (1) 3 game losing streak
Winnipeg: (1) 3 game losing streak
Washington: (2) 3 game losing streaks
Dallas: (3) 3 game losing streaks
Pittsburgh: (3) 3 game losing streaks
Vegas: (3) 3 game losing streaks

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The Golden Knights Have A Healthy Habit Of Stringing Goals Together Quickly

It’s somewhat of an unexplainable phenomenon in sports, specifically in hockey, but it happens and happens a lot for good teams.

Sometimes bounces don’t go your way. Through the first two periods, we had our chances but the puck didn’t cross the line. Then suddenly in the 3rd period, I don’t really know what happened, but boom, we got all of them. -Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

Three goals in a matter of less than five minutes. A deficit to a commanding lead. So what did happen?

I don’t know, maybe altitude change? -Nate Schmidt

He was joking (sort of) about how the training facility at Downtown Summerlin is 1,000 feet higher elevation than T-Mobile Arena. His teammates, and I, thought that concept was nuts, but that’s not uncommon when it comes to Nate.

Moments later though, he offered a much more believable justification, one that was echoed in the locker room.

Once our crowd gets into it and we score right away, it’s really hard for other teams to get back in. It’s kind of a like a hamster wheel it’s hard to stop it once it starts rolling. -Nate Schmidt

Obviously (the home crowd plays a major factor). When you have the crowd yelling at every single chance it makes you want to go on the ice and make something happen and hear those people yelling. They’ve been unbelievable all season, it’s amazing that it looks like this the first year. -Bellemare

It’s entirely possible Schmidt was being serious about the altitude thing. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It’s not out the norm for this team. At home, the Golden Knights have scored goals within five minutes of each other 22 different times this season. They’ve done it in 14 of their 26 home games, and in those 14 games, they’re are 13-1-0. They’ve also scored within two minutes of another goal 12 different times and within 91 seconds three times at T-Mobile Arena this year.

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Age Old Hockey Argument Strikes The Golden Knights: Should You Stick Up For Teammates If It Means Taking A Penalty?

Marchy The Enforcer. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Do the Golden Knights protect each other enough? It’s a topic we at SinBin.vegas have been arguing for years, and it most recently on the last episode of the Podcast. Then, on Sunday, Jonathan Marchessault answered that question when he backed up teammate Nate Schmidt after being crushed (legally) by Carolina’s Elias Lindholm.

Oh it’s awesome. It’s great too see, he’s a great teammate. When you see stuff like that it brings the team together. For him to be a goal-scorer and not known for that stuff, sticking up for teammates, it’s great. –Brayden McNabb

Nate agreed.

He gets the boys a little fired up. Little guy out there mixing it up. You know, this day and age you don’t get those big bruisers running around. I guess 81 is the big bruiser for us the last couple of games. -Nate Schmidt

Did Marchessault’s Hakkasan bouncer reaction resonate in the locker room?

We expect that from everyone in this locker room. It’s good on him. A lot of guys were proud that he stood up and did something. –Reilly Smith

Muscles Marchessault never hesitated as he plowed into the Hurricanes forward, baiting Lindholm to drop his gloves.

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