Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Nate Schmidt shrieked in anguish, and that wasn’t even the biggest giveaway that he may have suffered a serious injury in the first period of the Vegas Golden Knights’ season opener.
The way forwards Mark Stone and Cody Glass rushed to the defenseman’s side and consoled him as he lay motionless on the ice was more telling. The outside of Schmidt’s knee collided with San Jose Sharks center Logan Couture’s knee less than six minutes into an eventual 4-1 Golden Knights win.
“Freak accident,” Glass described his front-row view of the play.
Officials halted the action as trainers tended to Schmidt before teammates Tomas Nosek and William Carrier leapt over the boards from the bench to help him skate off the ice and into the locker room. Vegas already held a 2-0 lead, but the incident sliced into the gleeful atmosphere and ultimately left a blemish on an otherwise perfect night.
Schmidt was ruled out for the rest of the game in the second period. Coach Gerard Gallant offered no further update on the veteran’s status after the game.
Fatalistic fans began assessing worst-case scenarios and arriving at dire conclusions. It’s hard to blame them considering Schmidt is the team’s top blue-liner — defense is the one area where Vegas wasn’t inarguably among the NHL’s elite coming into the season — and they’ve struggled without him before.
Memories of last year’s 8-11-1 start while Schmidt served a 20-game suspension for a positive drug test surely infiltrated some of the regular-season record 18,588 fans’ minds.
Let’s hope Schmidt is fine and only misses a few games, which appears at least within the realm of possibility at this point. If it’s worse than that, however, take a deep breath and fear not.
These are not last year’s Golden Knights. This year’s Golden Knights can persevere.
They showed they could preserve with their response to losing Schmidt on Tuesday. It just may have taken a few minutes. Some definite shellshock struck at T-Mobile Arena in the immediate aftermath.
The Golden Knights skated a little less crisply. The noise level dropped to a volume fit for human consumption for the first time of the night. Heck, even the preponderance of gold-sequined jackets in the stands somehow seemed to lose a little sparkle.
Gallant got into a shouting match with the referees for not stopping the game sooner and they in turn chastised him for letting his trainers on the ice during play. Then Brandon Pirri committed an unnecessary hooking penalty. A few minutes later, the Sharks cut it to a one-goal game with Marcus Sorensen soaring in from the wing to beat Marc-Andre Fleury.
“We had to regroup,” Stone said.
The Golden Knights regrouped by buckling down. They buckled down in an impressive fashion — on defense.
Stone said the forwards felt an onus to help out with a defensive rotation diminished to five players without Schmidt. They succeeded wildly.
Vegas didn’t allow another high danger scoring chance to San Jose until several minutes into the third period, after Glass had given it breathing room with a second-period goal in his first NHL game.
Stone led the defensive charge, setting up Glass’ goal by pouncing on a loose puck in the neutral zone, but he wasn’t the only one. William Karlsson showed why Stone’s not the only Golden Knight considered a Selke Trophy contender with strong defensive shifts of his own.
Reilly Smith, who scored a pair of goals, similarly hounded the Sharks and limited their chances.
The five healthy defensemen may have played the best of all. When the Golden Knights were without Schmidt last season, Jon Merrill and Nick Holden struggled mightily. They were both exceptional on Tuesday.
Sorensen’s goal came on a pair of roped passes from Couture and Brent Burns. It’s the type of play a team talented enough to be within two games of the Stanley Cup Final last season is going to make.
If anyone was at fault for the score, it was Shea Theodore as Sorensen got behind him in the Sharks’ offensive zone. But the 24-year-old Theodore is the least of the Golden Knights’ defensive concerns as he came into the season with the possibility of supplanting Schmidt as the team’s No. 1 blue liner.
“Those guys did a great job for us tonight keeping it simple and allowed us to get through the first one unscathed,” Stone said of the defensemen. “I haven’t talked to Nate, but Nate is one of the happiest-go-lucky guys so he’ll be ready to go when he’s ready.”
In the meantime, even with Cody Eakin and Alex Tuch also on the injury list, the Golden Knights are poised to stay afloat. Stone nailed Schmidt’s personality, so while it might be a while before anyone outside the team hears from him, there’s little doubt of what his message would be.
He’d urge everyone not to fret his absence too much and try to fire up what’s still a more-than-formidable team.
“I went through it and I feel like it’s only going to make him stronger,” Glass said. “I’m not sure what happened, what the outcome is but I just hope the best for him.”