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Golden Knights find successful pairings on defense

Nate Schmidt’s planned major at Minnesota was listed as business management, which helps explain why he lauded the Golden Knights’ current defense pairings using a concept from Economics 101.

It’s basic trickle-down theory.

“If you got two guys that are flying and making plays, and it’s hard to play against and putting teams in tough positions, then yeah,” Schmidt said. “If it’s not working good for your whole group, then it doesn’t work. If it’s working only for two guys (pause) … it’s got to work for all six.”

Coach Gerard Gallant briefly experimented with his combinations on defense following Schmidt’s return from suspension, but recently returned to his familiar partners from last season.

The Knights responded with back-to-back shutouts against the top two teams in the Pacific Division and have won three straight overall as they prepare for a three-game road trip starting Tuesday in Chicago.

“I think in the summertime, when you looked at your (defense) pairings, that’s probably the way that you had them,” Gallant said. “But things change in the NHL. Obviously, with the suspension, obviously, with injuries, things change. I want guys to be able to play with anybody.

“But do I like our group’s pairs now? I really like them.”

Beginning in the third period against Calgary on Nov. 19, Schmidt rejoined Brayden McNabb as the shutdown pair that matches up with the opposing team’s top line.

Shea Theodore, when he wasn’t taking shifts at forward late in the blowout loss to the Flames, went back with previous partner Deryk Engelland.

Schmidt skated with Theodore in the victory at Edmonton on Nov. 18, his first game back after serving a 20-game suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance.

The two produced impressive puck possession stats, with the Knights owning approximately 78 percent of the shot attempts (Corsi For) at 5-on-5 when they were on the ice together.

But that also made the Knights top heavy on defense, to go back to Schmidt’s earlier example.

“Nate, he’ll jump into the rush I think a little bit more, and at this point, I’ve played with (Engelland) for quite some time now, so I’m quite comfortable with him,” Theodore said. “I think we have six great (defensemen) and we’ve got them rolling pretty evenly.”

Schmidt joked that he found himself watching Theodore at times, but Schmidt’s game — and maybe attention span, too — benefits from being the defenseman tasked with moving pucks up the ice and activating into the offense. Playing with the defensive-minded McNabb affords him that opportunity.

Theodore pairing with Engelland, another stay-at-home defenseman, gives the Knights high-speed puck movers on each their top two defense pairings.

Not to be overlooked, Colin Miller and Nick Holden have meshed well as the third pair, as the Knights allowed one goal at even strength in wins over Arizona, Calgary and San Jose.

Spread the wealth.

“Obviously it’s just a small sample that we have so far, but I think all four of those other guys played together last year for most of the year, and then me and Colin have been pretty familiar with each other’s game so far,” Holden said. “Different guys do different things, but you just kind of read off each other at first, and then as you play more and more with a guy, you start to be able to just react.”

More Golden Knights: Follow at reviewjournal.com/GoldenKnights and @HockeyinVegas on Twitter.

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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