Nate Schmidt’s return to the Golden Knights’ lineup is exactly a week away. Suffice to say, he has been missed more than anyone ever realized.
I’m not going to get into the 20-game suspension the NHL meted out to the defenseman after testing positive for a banned substance prior to the season. We’re never going to learn the real circumstances as to what happened or what the substance was.
But if NHL Players Association executive director Don Fehr is smart, he’ll demand that transparency be built into the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. It will benefit the players to not have to hide behind a bunch of legalities when and if someone gets popped.
It would have been nice if Schmidt could have come clean and told the world exactly what happened. But what’s done is done. And as we look ahead to next Sunday and beyond, Schmidt’s return is not only welcome, it is critical to the team’s breaking out of its early-season morass and get itself into contention in the Pacific Division.
You all know the numbers. Schmidt leads the team in time on ice. He will help give Vegas’ anemic power play a boost. He’ll help make the penalty killing unit stronger as part of the second unit (Deryk Engelland and Brayden McNabb are the top D pair on the PK).
Then there are the intangibles that come with having Nate on the ice. He usually is skating against the opposition’s top forward and does a very good job of limiting the opponent’s chances. He will help the Knights’ transition from defense to offense because he is such a good passer and he sees the ice so well. He also will join the rush and support the attack.
I’m sure his teammates will be glad to have him back. He was warmly received in Ottawa the other day as he practiced with the team. He probably regaled the boys with stories of his time in Austria and how he helped the Vienna Capitals maintain their grip on the top spot in the Austrian League by his presence on the ice at the Caps’ practices.
That’s all well and good. But now is the time to step in, produce and lift up the Golden Knights. They sure could have used him Saturday at the Bell Centre. To cough up leads of 2-0 and 4-3 and lose to Tomas Tatar and the Montreal Canadiens 5-4 and come away with zero points should have left the players angry.
The Knights wrap up the four-game road trip tonight in Boston. They’re two games below .500 (7-9-1) with 15 points. When you’re swimming upstream and you have a chance to get to .500 and you let it get away, it’s the kind of night that come the off-season, you’ll look back on it and say, “How the hell did we let that one get away from us?”
And while you can say the Knights didn’t have Schmidt, Engelland, Paul Stastny and Erik Haula Saturday in Montreal, the fact is they had control of this game and there are no excuses.