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The struggles of Nate Schmidt and Brayden McNabb were exposed in first round

Against the Blackhawks, the Golden Knights’ starting defensive duo weren’t great.

NHL: Vegas Golden Knights at Tampa Bay Lightning
Vegas Golden Knights defensemen Brayden McNabb and Nate Schmidt talk during the first period
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Nate Schmidt and Brayden McNabb were on ice for five goals against the Vegas Golden Knights at 5-on-5 against the Chicago Blackhawks. The other two defensive pairings, Shea Theodore and Alec Martinez and Zach Whitecloud and Nick Holden, combined for three against, while playing nearly twice as much time.

If that sounds bad, it is. Schmidt and McNabb looked off at key times, and all of those goals were from the high-danger area, meaning the Blackhawks earned those goals. Meanwhile, Theodore and Martinez allowed zero high-danger goals at 5-on-5 and Holden and Whitecloud only allowed one.

In the regular season, McNabb and Schmidt allowed 38 goals against (2.68 per 60) for a 47.95 percent goal share in 852:01. Martinez and Theodore had a 55.56 percent goal share, allowing just three against in 124:03 (1.93 per 60). Holden and Whitecloud were worse, allowing five goals against in 84:28 (3.55 per 60).

McNabb and Schmidt also combined for 12 giveaways against Chicago and just one primary point and one takeaway. The Golden Knights need more out of the duo if they’re going to be that bad on defense.

Yet, there are positives to take out of their performance as well. Despite a 46.67 percent offensive zone start percentage (the lowest of the three main pairs), McNabb-Schmidt had a 60.93 percent Corsi, 61.04 percent shot share and 60.05 percent expected goal share. Like the other two pairs, they dominated play at 5-on-5. They just couldn’t get the goaltending to the tune of a .833 on-ice save percentage and .897 PDO.

To be fair, if you let Patrick Kane in all alone after a bad giveaway in your own zone, there’s only so much a goaltender can do. Still, not a great oiSV% when the other two pairs are getting a .952 (Martinez-Theodore) and .941 (Holden-Whitecloud).

But the possession stats and lack of help from the goaltenders can hide a crucial point: just how bad Schmidt-McNabb were in the series.

It seemed like they were the ones on ice for truly bad goals against, while Theodore and Martinez were kind of blameless in their goals (one was the Olli Maatta shot Marc-Andre Fleury needs to save, the other the Matthew Highmore goal that banked off of Robin Lehner’s head).

So let’s break down those goals:

Game 2

Kirby Dach scores the first 5-on-5 goal for the Blackhawks in Game 2 — all Chicago got in Game 1 was the shorthanded goal from David Kampf. This one is worse, however, because at least Theodore was alone and no one else truly screwed up (depending upon the level of blame you levy on Jonathan Marchessault looking at the ceiling instead of the ice). This one, well:

McNabb completely loses his man and Schmidt isn’t able to help him recover. After blocking the shot, McNabb also allows the rebound shot and the puck makes its way to Dach. He’s 6-foot-4 by the way, pretty hard to lose.

Then, McNabb does it again:

Dylan Strome is definitely McNabb’s guy there. The duo gets completely frozen by a good passing display, and that allows a wide-open Strome on the doorstep. They need to shut that play down but they’re unable to.

Drake Caggiula

In Game 4, Drake Caggiula gave the Blackhawks their first lead in the series after Olli Maatta (who, for the record, is very slow) beat McNabb to the puck:

Going after the defenseman in the corner for a hit here is probably not the smartest move from McNabb. But Schmidt getting caught at the side of the net instead of being in the crease directly contributes to this. It’s another example of them leaving a Blackhawks forward open in the crease.

The best defensive play here is probably William Carrier shutting down Patrick Kane. You know you’re in trouble when a forward is making the best defensive play (and it’s not Mark Stone or Reilly Smith).

Game 5

In Game 5, Schmidt and McNabb again allowed two goals, this time off of two turnovers in their own end. Easily avoidable mistakes either way. It starts when Toews beats Schmidt to a rebound:

And continues when Schmidt turns the puck over in his own zone and the duo leave Kane all alone in the offensive zone:

Again, only so much Lehner can do there. With all the time in the world, Kane is going to make a goaltender pay the vast majority of the time. After all, he’s still one of the best puck handlers in the world.

On the first play, Schmidt needs to make more of an effort on that puck and force Toews off, and he doesn’t show the necessary effort. On the second, they either need to stop that pass or one of them needs to be deeper in their own end.

It was a bad game for them, and they needed to show more effort and care for the puck in an elimination game after losing the first go-round.

Schmidt and McNabb’s permittance of high-danger goals and chances over the five games were troubling. Yet there were highlights that show, if they take more care of the puck, they can be better.

They’ll need to be against the Vancouver Canucks. They allowed the same number of goals at 5-on-5 as the other two defensive pairings (while playing 26:10). Holden and Deryk Engelland allowed one in 24:25 and Theodore — who played with different partners each game (Jon Merrill and Nicolas Hague) — allowed just one in 27:54.

But perhaps for the rest of the postseason playing the Martinez-Theodore pairing more often, and in a more defensive role, is probably a good idea. After all, Theodore is (newly) 25. If you’re not going to play him 25-30 minutes a night now (which he deserves), then when?

Stats from NaturalStatTrick.com and Hockey-Reference.com