Nate Schmidt

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One thing that won’t fade for Vegas Golden Knights this season

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Plenty of smart writers and number-crunchers have tackled the subject of “How good are the Vegas Golden Knights?” or “How long will this last?” Today’s Morning Skate collected some of the best. 

Allow this hot take: while the wins and points are likely to dry up – to at least some extent – there’s one thing that shouldn’t go away for this edition of the Vegas Golden Knights: motivation. For better or worse, we’ve rarely seen an NHL team brimming with so many players fighting for careers, reputations, and millions of dollars.

If the bottom falls out as far as the standings go, it will still be interesting to follow these situations. Contending teams may feel the same way during the trade deadline, at least when it comes to Vegas’ many expiring contracts.

With that in mind, let’s break down this roster to examine the not-so-quiet desperation in Vegas.

Contract years

If you want a quick look at how open-ended the Golden Knights’ future is at the moment, consider their spending this season vs. in the future.

By Cap Friendly’s numbers, the Golden Knights are committed to a $70.87 million cap hit in 2017-18; that number goes down to $36.92M to 14 players in 2018-19 as of this moment.

James Neal: Coming into this season, the narrative felt like a solid power forward who gets a raw deal. Early on in this franchise’s young life, he’s turned into a hero.

He has little reason to stop pushing, at least considering this fork in the road. There are millions on the table for Neal, making him a great source for bad gambling metaphors (if you’re into that kind of thing).

David Perron: In many ways, he’s a lower-profile version of Neal. They both have shown dynamic scoring ability, though sometimes they’ve been frustrating. Each forward has a lot to prove and has also been around the league quite a bit. They’ve even both been traded by the Pittsburgh Penguins. They both face crucial contract years where they can turn heads with strong seasons.

And, hey, Perron had his own hero moment for the Golden Knights last night:

Jonathan Marchessault – Currently injured, but also in a prominent spot where his next contract could vary wildly.

A slew of defensemen – The Golden Knights’ logjam on D isn’t necessarily going to last long. There are only three notable blueliners – and as you likely know, Vegas has a ton of them – with more than one year on their deals: Nate Schmidt, Griffin Reinhart, and Brad Hunt.

The likes of Jason Garrison and Luca Sbisa have seen better days. Even so, maybe the fear of a dull free agent market and/or getting benched for one of Gerard Gallant’s many other options will push their “compete levels” to new heights?

Something to prove

Speaking of Gallant, there’s little doubt that he likely has a chip on his shoulder stemming from the way things ended with the Florida Panthers.

He has quite the opportunity on his hands: a relatively competent roster for an expansion team, yet he’s also graded on a curve because this is an expansion team. Has Gallant already locked up at least some top-five Jack Adams votes?

Goalies Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban – Both being on two-year deals provides some inherent motivation, but even considering their very different careers up to this point (“MAF” has more Stanley Cup rings [3] than Subban has NHL wins [2]), they each likely have some fire in their bellies.

“The Flower” handled the end of his Pittsburgh Penguins days with incredible grace. You have to think that he wants to prove that they made the wrong choice, or at least that he still “has it.”

Subban’s inspiration is even more obvious, as the former first-rounder aims to prove that he’s a true NHL goalie. While his development did slip in the Bruins organization, it’s not as if he was downright awful in the AHL.

Vadim Shipachyov – He didn’t just have to wait until age 30 for his first crack at the NHL. Due to the multitude of defensemen, “The Ship” also had to wait to make an impression in Vegas. Expect him to make up for lost time.

Reilly Smith – There are players who were claimed with things to prove even with relative comfort in Vegas; Cody Eakin probably feels insulted by the Stars exposing him to the expansion draft.

Smith is a rare case of a quality everyday NHL player who was just given away in a trade. The Panthers didn’t need to give up both Smith and Marchessault, but they did. That should give him at least a short-term boost, right?

The weird mascot: You think that “Chance” the Gila Monster hasn’t seen your disparaging tweets?

(Kidding. And also afraid.)

***

Look, ignore the hot takes. Most professional athletes care deeply and work hard. Sidney Crosby‘s future has been set since day one, and yet look at how he attacks a meaningless training moment with Brad Marchand:

Still, human nature plays a role in these things, and you will see many players in “survival mode” in Vegas.

That might not be great for tanking purposes, but it sets the stage for a fascinating season for the Golden Knights.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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With Niskanen on LTIR, Capitals recall prospect Madison Bowey

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Madison Bowey has been called up to join the Washington Capitals, a move that follows an injury to defenseman Matt Niskanen.

Niskanen, who sits fourth on the Capitals in ice time at just over 21 minutes per night, suffered what the team is calling an upper-body injury during last night’s 5-2 victory against the New Jersey Devils.

He left the game after the second period, and has since been placed on long-term injured reserve, considered week to week at this point.

A second round pick of the Capitals in 2013, Bowey has spent the past two seasons with the Hershey Bears in the American Hockey League, although his sophomore campaign, in which he had 14 points in 34 games, was derailed by an ankle injury.

With all the changes on the Washington blue line this summer, losing Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk in free agency and Nate Schmidt in the expansion draft, there appeared to be a potential opening for the 22-year-old Bowey on the Capitals’ opening night roster.

Having been previously mentioned as a prospect that was ready to take the next step into the NHL, Bowey appeared in three preseason games last month. He recorded one assist, while playing more than 22 minutes a game on two occasions, before he was sent back to Hershey, while still awaiting the opportunity to make his NHL debut.

The Capitals are on the road again, as they face the Philadelphia Flyers tonight.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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The Buzzer: Backstrom dominates, another shutout for Anderson

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Player of the night: Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals

Before the Washington Capitals took the ice in New Jersey on Friday night there was some doubt as to whether or not Nicklas Backstrom would play after he left warmups after taking a puck to the head (he was initially listed as a scratch).

He not only played, he absolutely dominated in the Capitals’ 5-2 win.

Backstrom finished with four points, scoring a goal and adding three assists to help the Capitals bounce back from a tough loss on Wednesday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov are all tied for the league lead in points (10) after Friday’s game.

The Capitals may not have the depth that they did a year ago, especially after losing Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson, Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt over the summer, but they still have some elite players that are going to carry them a long way.

Highlight of the night. 

How can it be anything other than Artemi Panarin‘s first goal as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets? It is a thing of beauty.

Factoid of the night. 

Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson recorded the 39th shutout of his career. That puts him in the top-five among American-born goaltenders.

Misc.

— The Vegas Golden Knights have lost a game. With their loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Friday, as well as the New Jersey Devils’ loss to the Washington Capitals, there are now no more unbeaten teams in the NHL.

— Speaking of the Vegas-Detroit game, Henrik Zetterberg was magnificent for the Red Wings with four points. James Neal also continued his incredible start for Vegas with his sixth goal of the season.

Mike Smith had a brutal night for the Calgary Flames, getting benched after giving up five goals on 22 shots.

— The Colorado Avalanche … dominated? Yeah. They did. Not only did they beat the Anaheim Ducks, 3-1, to improve to 4-1-0 on the young season but they also outshot the Ducks by a 39-18 margin. Has to be concerning if you are a Ducks fan. This game was a classic Randy Carlyle game on the shot chart.

Scores and recaps

Washington Capitals 5, New Jersey Devils 2

Columbus Blue Jackets 3, New York Rangers 1

Colorado Avalanche 3, Anaheim Ducks 1

Ottawa Senators 6, Calgary Flames 0

Detroit Red Wings 6, Vegas Golden Knights 3

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL on NBCSN: Caps’ Ovechkin looks to keep rolling in clash with Penguins

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2017-18 campaign tonight when the Washington Capitals host the Pittsburgh Penguins at 7:30 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

A few people predicted that this season would be the begin of the end of Washington’s run of dominance in the NHL. After all, they lost a number of key pieces like Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner, Nate Schmidt, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams during the summer. But so far, the Caps have showed no signs of slowing down.

They’re 2-0-1 through three games, and they’ve managed to find the back of the net an incredible 14 times during that stretch (they’ve scored at least three goals in every game).

Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov are a huge reason why the Capitals have had plenty of offensive success in 2017-18. Ovechkin, who had 33 goals in 82 games last year, is already up to seven goals in three contests this season. Obviously, that won’t continue, but it’s still impressive considering many thought his better days were behind him.

“I think, organizationally, Alex took it to heart that he’s got to keep evolving,” head coach Barry Trotz said, per the Washington Post. “I mean, it’s tougher when you get older. You’ve got to work out harder, you’ve got to do all that stuff. When you’re younger, you could probably cut a couple corners, because the body responds. As you get older, that body has to be the driving force. I think he put a little more work into that area.”

Meanwhile, Kuznetsov has eight assists this season.  He’s also registered an assist on each of Ovechkin’s seven goals.

As for the Penguins, this season has kind of been a mixed bag through three games. They opened the season with a 5-4 overtime loss to St. Louis at home, they followed that up by getting obliterated in Chicago by a score of 10-1 and they responded by shutting out Nashville 4-0 on Saturday night.

“Our schedule’s been tough,” winger Phil Kessel said, per the Pittsburgh Tribune. “We won last year, and we played back-to-back opening nights and three in four. It’s a tough start. But I thought we played well last game. We just gotta move on from there.”

Of course, these two teams met in the playoffs, again, in 2017 with the Penguins coming out on top (again) in seven games.

‘We’re a part of Las Vegas’: Golden Knights trying to boost community after shooting

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LAS VEGAS (AP) The NHL’s fledgling Golden Knights understand Las Vegas is in need of inspiration and hope after last weekend’s deadly shooting and they’re trying to provide some.

Golden Knights players have visited the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department headquarters, United Blood Services, and the Las Vegas Convention Center, where a family assistance center has been set up. The team will also acknowledge the victims of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history and their families at the inaugural home opener, though the franchise is still finalizing details.

“Sports are a great thing, it can help take people’s minds off of things,” defenseman Nate Schmidt said during a media day Wednesday. “As much as the city has embraced us, we’re a part of Las Vegas.”

Center Jonathan Marchessault said the players were honored to meet with officers when the team visited police headquarters earlier this week.

“We’re nothing compared to those guys,” Marchessault said. “What they’ve done and what they do for our community and our country, it’s amazing. If you think about it we’re just entertainers, that’s it. They save lives, they make sure everything goes properly around us. They’re survivors, they’re warriors.”

The expansion Golden Knights are the city’s first major sports franchise and they’ve generated a lot of excitement before playing a single game. They open the season on Friday in Dallas and they play their first home game next Tuesday.

Defenseman Deryk Engelland has lived in the city since 2003, however, and the shooting has left his family shaken.

“My wife is still shaken up, she’s almost scared to go to the games, take the kids to the home opener,” said Engelland. “It hits hard and it hits in a lot of different ways. You see these things happen all over the world and no one ever thinks it’s going to happen in their backyard. For it to happen here, it’s horrific.”