By W.G. Ramirez
It’s Nate Schmidt Day in Southern Nevada.
Neither the Clark County Commission, nor the City Council from Las Vegas filed a proclamation, but the fans of the Vegas Golden Knights almost certainly have.
Schmidt, who completed a 20-game suspension for a violation of the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy, will start against the Edmonton Oilers and will be paired with Shea Theodore as the struggling Golden Knights (8-11-1) begin a three-game road trip over four nights. Vegas visits Calgary and former Golden Knight James Neal on Monday. takes Tuesday off and then visits Arizona.
It’s a crucial three-game junket for the Golden Knights, as all three come against Pacific Division rivals. Vegas is 2-0-1 against division foes.
Edmonton (9-9-1) returns to the ice after a 4-2 loss in Calgary on Friday and has now lost five of six after opening the season 8-4-1.
Tonight marks the first game between Edmonton and Vegas.
Value in the Knights
We’d like to say that Schmidt will be the potion for a turnaround, but it’s not that simple. His presence on the ice will make a difference, and he will undoubtedly be vocal and provide leadership, but he won’t be the reason Vegas wins tonight. The Pacific Division will be. As bad as things have been through the first six weeks of the campaign, the Golden Knights’ 2-0-1 mark against division opponents is a bright spot. They’ve gotten up for Vancouver and Anaheim (twice), outscoring both by a cumulative final of 10-4. They lost at home in overtime to the Canucks and have swept the Ducks. Setting the tone for three straight games like this is important, so it’s worth looking at the cheap road price with that in mind.
Value in the Oilers
While some argue Sidney Crosby is still the best player in hockey, others will tell you the torch has been passed on to Connor McDavid. He gives value to the Oilers any time they step on the ice against a team underachieving - especially in Edmonton. Even against the best teams in the league, the Oilers can’t be underestimated when he is on the ice.
McDavid led the Oilers in scoring versus Vegas last season, with eight points (2 goals, 6 assists). He currently ranks second in scoring in the league, with 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists). He has points in 16 of the team’s 19 games and is two short of 100 goals in his career. With as inconsistent as Marc-Andre Fleury has been this season, don’t be surprised to see McDavid hit the milestone in this game.
Over. Over. Over.
The line in this game is 5 1/2-over, -120 for a reason. The Golden Knights and Oilers are about to put on a show for the fans in Edmonton. Neither team gives up an alarmingly high amount of goals - Vegas ranks 11th in goals against average, and Edmonton ranks 18th - but they’re both capable of scoring at a high rate and have goalies who have buckled when the opposition ramps up.
Edmonton has allowed four or more goals in 10 of its 19 games and five of its last six, while Vegas has done the same in 9 of 20 games, including three of its last four. Look for Vegas’ first line to get a spark whenever Schmidt is on the blue line, not to mention the power play receiving a huge boost. And McDavid, well, can you say, “Hello 100!” Play this one high.
W.G. Ramirez is a freelance reporter in Las Vegas who covers the Vegas Golden Knights for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @WillieGRamirez