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Loss To Avalanche Highlights Importance Of Nate Schmidt To Golden Knights

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights’ best defenseman has only seen the ice for 3 minutes and 11 seconds this season.

I’d love to have him in my lineup, trust me, and he’s going to be there soon. -Gerard Gallant

Gallant made that comment about Nate Schmidt hours before the Colorado game, and then his team put on a 60-minute display of exactly why they miss him so much.

The head coach called the game “embarrassing,” “a total no-show,” and “a team effort” and his main focus was on their inability to defend as a unit. Vegas gave up a season-high 40 shots against, allowed five unanswered goals, and were forced to pull the goalie who has been the best in the league on a night he was playing well.

All in all, it was a complete and utter disaster defensively.

Luckily, help is on the way, and even as bad as it looked last night, Nate Schmidt’s return can, and probably will, fix it all.

The Golden Knights play a system that relies on all five players to defend. It starts with forechecking from the forwards making it difficult for the opposing team to exit their own zone. This leads to an aggressive style of defending the neutral zone taking away time and space and not allowing teams to move through the center of the ice with speed. That then lets Vegas’ defenseman challenge zone entries by standing up at the blue line. Finally, when the puck does end up deep in Vegas’ zone, they have layers of support to both defend and break the puck out when it is eventually turned over.

Pick any one piece of that equation, take it out, and the Golden Knights’ entire defensive structure falls apart.

The Golden Knights problems last night started at the defensive blue line. Vegas’ inability to challenge Colorado’s zone entries led to every other portion of the game spiraling out of control. Time and time again the Avalanche would skate the puck over the blue line without any resistance at all.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

There are always multiple reasons for a problem in a hockey game, but with zone entry defense it almost always comes down to gap control. Gap control means how far away the defenseman is from the skater carrying the puck. In a perfect world, a defenseman wants to be within one stick length of the puck carrier and then challenge with a stick check the moment he attempts to carry the puck across the line. Obviously it doesn’t always work out that way, but the closer a defenseman is to the player entering the zone, the tougher life is on the forward. Last night, the Avs skated the puck in with ease just about every time they entered the zone.

That was the breakdown and it infected every other part of the Golden Knights game. There was no forecheck because forwards were spending too much time in their own zone. There wasn’t enough pressure in the neutral zone because more often than not new players were coming on the ice as Colorado collected the puck. And the puck support fell apart in the defensive zone because of tired legs from chasing the Avs around all night while they had the puck.

One issue leads to another, which leads to another, and it ends up looking like a game in which the Golden Knights simply can’t play with the Avalanche. They couldn’t last night, but they can in the future as long as their defense is with Nate Schmidt.

With Nate in the lineup, there are now two pairs that are consistently willing and able to stand up at the blue line as opposed to last night when there was just one. Theodore and McNabb were actually very good when they had the chance, but for the most part, their zone entry denials helped lead to reliving pressure, rather than creating it the other way. Schmidt’s return means more often than not, there’s at least one guy on the ice that will make zone entries tough even if there’s a breakdown in forechecking or through the neutral zone.

Again, the defensive structure relies upon everything to work together. When it does, it doesn’t really matter which line or pair is on the ice. When it doesn’t, it takes someone to step up and restore order. Offensively, the Golden Knights have plenty of those guys, defensively, they don’t. Theodore can rescue plays with his skating and McNabb can with his physicality, but beyond that, with Schmidt out, everyone else needs to be placed in a good position to play sound defense.

Schmidt is an all-around terrific defenseman and having him in the lineup relieves pressure on everyone else. He’s good all over the ice and adds elements to the game that no other Vegas defenseman does. Plus, he balances the lineup, taking massive amounts of defensive stress off Theodore and allowing him to chip in offensively. Last night, Theodore played 9:31 against Nathan MacKinnon. With Schmidt in the lineup, that number would be cut in half, if not less.

Believe me, I know how bad it looked last night against Colorado. It almost seems crazy to suggest that one player can solve it all, but we’ve seen it before. The Golden Knights were a mess for the first 20 games of the year last year, and almost like magic, Schmidt’s return quelled many of the problems in their own end.

Eventually, Schmidt will come back, and it will happen again. Trust me.

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10 Comments

  1. Mike StG

    This is what I’ve been saying as well. Order should be restored when Nate returns. The pressure on Theo and McNabb has been obvious – little offensive production from Shea and Nabber taking lots of penalties. The gap problems seem driven by lack of speed in 2nd/3rd pairing, as they try to compensate for that deficiency. Also, Nate’s quick decision making in DZ and excellent passing are missed by forwards in transition. This affects Karlsson line scoring as speed is such a big part of their game.

  2. Ross Sellers

    Yeah….or the Avs just steamrolled the Knights. They came into “The Fortress” and made that team look like they were living in a treehouse in the path of an Avalanche coming down a mountain. Gotta give credit where it’s due. One player doesn’t stop that from happening last night. It wasn’t even close. Just saying.

    • Jonathan

      And the Avs aren’t in any way better than the Knights as a team. “Just saying.” Having Nate absolutely does make the biggest difference and if you think what happened is anything resembling representative, you must not know anything about hockey. There’s a reason Colorado has been a fringe playoff team and it’s because they’re not going to beat teams like the Knights when both are playing their A games. That didn’t happen, but it’s one regular season game, it doesn’t magically make them the Mighty Avalanche. Get a grip.

      • Jason Smith

        You obviously are the 1 who knows nothing about hockey,& is nothing but a shill,& honk for his own team.My Avs have been 1 of the youngest teams in the sport,& btw-were missing Rantanen-a top 10 player in the NHL.And if you paid attention,you might realize-YOUNG TEAMS ACTUALLY IMPROVE,& HAVE TO GO THROUGH A PROCESS! Theres a reason,every reputable outlet ranks the Avs as having 1 of the top 2 or 3 futures in the NHL,next 3 or 4 yrs.Most have us #1 in fact.Im not gonna make a huge deal-about 1 regular season game in October-Vegas will be fine.Its 1 game,& yes Scmidt would help alot.But he isnt a top 10 player like Rantanen,& wouldnt have made a 5 goal difference last night-thats just dumb.Your own coach admitted we took our foot off the gas in the 3rd-it couldve been worse.And if you think the Knights are sitting around today saying “oh well-no big deal-we are just helpless til Scmidt comes back” -then you are the idiot.Of course he makes a huge difference-but they know they got smoked as bad as you can ever be smoked in a regular season game.Hockey isnt like basketball-where the loss of 1 guy-completely changes the team.If you have a system that falls apart without 1 guy-thats a bad system.Cuz in case ya havent noticed-ALOT OF PEOPLE GET HURT IN HOCKEY! Truth is its much more nuanced,& complicated than the author says.Its not close to as simplistic as he claims.Yes Schmidt would make a big difference for any team.(as would Rantanen)And no the Avs arent as great as they looked yesterday,nor are the Knights close to as bad as they looked.Its a combination-we played as good as we can,& Vegas was awful.This game will be meaningless-if they meet in the playoffs.But just shrugging it off-while giving no credit,& downing another team-that everybody else says has the brightest future in the sport-just shows that you are either a shamless,homer, honk-or clueless about the sport you claim to know so well.Either way-you embarrass yourself-when it comes to reasonable,knowlegable,& somewhat unbiased fans-of either team.You reflect poorly on a fanbase-that just a few short years ago-HAD NO PRO SPORTS REMEMBER! Show a little sophistication,nuance,objectivity,& perspective,or you really come off bad to reasonable fans.

    • Eric

      Apparently either you didn’t read the article or you didn’t understand it.

  3. schmitty 88

    the squad was awful and lethargic against the lance

  4. Dave

    But nobody has mentioned that perhaps the best play of the game itself and so far this year for the Knights was their lone goal. Glass should be brought up to play with Smith and Karlsson. Marchessault is too small and gets knocked off the puck or off balance too easily with it time and again. Marchey is Galants boy and it is blinding the coach from the obvious. Glass, Smith and Karlsson would be one of the most dynamic lines in the league.

  5. Jason Smith

    And btw-my comment was dirrected at Jonathan-the self annointed hockey expert-not so much the author.Although i think this article was very simplistic,& some wishfull thinking,by the author.1 guy doesnt change yesterdays outcome-though his point is valid (if overstated)-in the long term.But Jonathans comment was just ridiculous.Not only were the Avs ahead of schedule last year-by any reasonable messure-but ya might realize-we have a much different roster this season than last.We’ve had the best (or maybe #2) top line-for a couple yrs.But we didnt have much depth,& it cost us in the playoffs.Kadri,Burakovsky,Donskoi,& Makar (only the #1 ranked prospect in the nhl,& who everyones predicts will win multiple Norris trophies)-all were on different teams last regular season.We’ve added other guys-but those are the guys making the biggest difference.Point is-this isnt the same Av team as even last yr.Much deeper,& even the guys who were here-learned alot of playoff lessons last spring.Just like our basketball team-the Nuggets.But Vegas will be fine,& so will the Avs.Alot can happen though-injuries/whatever.But i wouldnt be suprised to see these teams meet in WCF.But to boil it down to just 1 guy wouldve singlehandedly stopped 5 goals is ludicrous.

  6. Tony

    I miss the MIS-FITS! We had a fast fun pressure forcing attack other teams had no idea how to deal with. We now have an old slow moving team with absolutely no speed. Boring as hell team. We went from being the funnest team to watch in the NHL to a very average group.
    The GM screwed this team up bad. All of us have to hang on to the hope somehow Tuck and Schmidt save our ass.

  7. Al Ragu

    Two problems with your assertion that Nate Schmidt returning will fix all. First, having two defensive pairings capable of standing up to zone entry means the team is still vulnerable when the third pairing is on the ice and, secondly, defenseman are not the only players responsible to prevent zone entry. When three forwards are attacking your defense, a back checking forward is responsible to help out. That was not happening in the Colorado game.

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