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Year 2, Game 21: Golden Knights defeat Oilers 6-3 in must-win divisional game

Vegas defeated the Oilers in Nate Schmidt’s first game back. It was one of their most convincing wins on the season. Coincidence?

NHL: Vegas Golden Knights at Edmonton Oilers
Vegas Golden Knights celebrate a second period goal by Jonathan Marchessault
Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Defenseman Nate Schmidt returned to action Sunday night after serving his 20-game suspension, and the Golden Knights looked great with a 6-3 win against the Edmonton Oilers. Happy days for all.

With their most important blueliner back, this could be a positive sign moving forward. The first line was better, the defense was better (though they could still use some work) and Schmidt’s defensive partner, Shea Theodore, was better (scoring two points).

That pairing was an obvious bright spot of this game. They were very good together, displayed great chemistry, and regularly succeeded in moving the puck and putting pressure on the Oilers. As much as they were eased into this game — playing very few minutes in the first and finishing with 19:37 (Schmidt) and 19:36 (Theodore), they looked more than impressive together.

The first line continuously got better as the night went along, as Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith combined for four goals.

The Golden Knights needed this one, and they got it against an incredibly important division rival. Vegas was able to limit Connor McDavid outside of his lone goal 52 seconds into the game.

A few notes: Nick Holden was on ice for every goal against, which is not impressive. The first goal took a chaotic bounce, emblematic of the luck the Golden Knights have had this season. Cody Eakin is quietly making a case to remain Vegas’ second-line center, adding a shorthanded goal and contributing to Max Pacioretty’s goal at even strength.

Recap

As much as it behooves me to make this a shift-by-shift breakdown of Schmidt and Theodore, for example the defensive play that Theodore made on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins which led to a great breakaway opportunity for Schmidt, let’s get to the plays that actually ended in a tally.

Let’s start with the wild puck that went in first:

The puck takes several odd bounces that even after watching it several times, it’s hard to tell the trajectory. But it gets there. In terms of results, again, that’s the negative luck the Golden Knights have seen this season. What player stepped under a ladder they shouldn’t have? Who broke a mirror here?

The Golden Knights answered back with a great deflection from Wild Bill:

After a rare blunder from the penalty kill - rebound chance created, high-danger shot not cleared, Alex Chiasson scores from a high-percentage area - Cody Eakin did this shorthanded:

When Karlsson was scoring on the penalty kill last year, that’s how he did it. Eakin has learned. He’s doing the stuff that he needs to do to set himself apart and it has him on pace for a career year.

That shorthanded goal set off a period of 2:12 where the Golden Knights scored three goals, turning from 2-1 Edmonton to 4-2 Vegas.

The first one is a luck-based bounce, evening the luck on the evening, and the second is, well, gorgeous.

On the power play, Marchessault just nutmegs a guy. This time, though, it’s a goal, and a perfect self-screen situation set up by Nagoaleon.

Then Marchessault gets a deflection himself out front, before setting Smith up:

Great work to get the puck out, keep it, and get it to Smith who’s flying down the royal road. Gets the puck on net and it’s an easy angle shot.

And then, Holden does this:

As much as laying down on a 2-on-1 can take away the passing lane when done correctly - AKA timed right - here, Holden doesn’t get the timing right. Leon Draisaitl is easily able to operate around his body, and he fires the puck into the netting. Not great, but at the end of the game, not the end of the world either (thankfully).

Analysis

Besides the fluky goal from the wall, these goals show how to score in the NHL - royal road shots, shots from that stretch of ice directly in the middle; exactly where the Golden Knights need to be. In addition, both special teams goals were scored from the circle, which is considered medium-danger. Good goals to get, but you’re not going to get them often.

The goals at even strength, though, are exactly where the Golden Knights need to be shooting. The Golden Knights were forced to one side of the net but took advantage of it, as seen by the fact that a deep pool of blue is highlighted right next to the paint.

The Knights need to be better at taking away the middle, and they have been for most of the season. The Oilers got full access to that lane and took chances, which could have been disastrous.

Also, like most games, the Golden Knights got the puck more and more as the game went on, dominating in the second and third periods.

The fourth line drove the offense once again. Ryan Reaves got two high-danger chances and William Carrier got three. In addition, Karlsson also got three and both Schmidt and Theodore added one.

The pairing of Theodore and Schmidt, across all strengths, led the team in Corsi, shot share, and high-danger share. While this can be attributed to a combination of things, including incredibly high offensive zone usage rates — actually rare for Theodore this season, but serving as the pairing for someone who hasn’t played professional hockey since June, perhaps wise — it’s important to note.

As their usage falls back down to even, or perhaps even to more defensively-oriented - both guys can add dimension in their own end - it’ll be interesting to see if they can continue to move the puck as well. Smart money should be on “yes”.

The Golden Knights will be facing the Flames tomorrow night.