Greg Wyshynski: The Golden Knights’ success (6-1-0) is stunning for an NHL expansion team. No other first-year team in the history of the league has won six of its first seven games. This doesn’t just include every expansion team in the past 100 years, but teams like the Montreal Canadiens in the NHL’s inaugural 1917-18 season, who had Georges Vezina between the pipes. And he has, like, a trophy named after him.
But as Emily notes below, Vegas isn’t a typical expansion team. They were set up to succeed early in the hopes of establishing instant momentum in a market where ice is typically found in watered-down gin and tonics at the craps table; and as a thank you to owner Bill Foley for the $500 million ante. The expansion draft rules ensured they would, at the very least, get a slew of good defensemen and a veteran goalie such as Marc-Andre Fleury; turns out, it also helped them land veteran forwards James Neal and David Perron, two of the team’s top scorers out of the gate and a cut above what expansion teams used to mine from the draft.
They were set up to succeed, not just in the draft but in the schedule. It’s not just seven straight home games within their first nine games of existence; it’s having two games against the Arizona Coyotes, and one each against the Detroit Red Wings and Buffalo Sabres. That’s a combined opposing record of 6-16-3 as of Monday, and a great way to find your footing early if you’re Vegas.
So let’s reassess the Knights after this upcoming six-game road trip through the Eastern Conference, where they won’t be playing in front of their incredible home fans — yes, even the poor souls that are singing “Sweeeeeeet Golden Knights” instead of “Sweet Caroline” — and won’t have a parade of visiting teams who might just be catching, ahem, the “Vegas flu” during their visits to T-Mobile Arena (which is a working theory of mine).
Emily Kaplan: The Golden Knights were better equipped than any expansion team in recent memory — with legit goaltending, proven scoring and an embarrassment of defensive depth. But nobody expected this success — especially this early. Fancy-stats people will point to Vegas being a top-10 team in PDO and shooting percentage, meaning they’re getting good puck luck. However, I’ll give my three biggest reasons for the 6-1-0 start. I’m warning you, they’re simple: home-ice advantage, clutch scoring and strong goaltending.
The Knights played five of their first seven games at home, and after attending a game at T-Mobile Arena, I can attest: It’s a helluva unique place to play. I’m not saying the glow-in-the-dark drumline and accents of Medieval Times are distracting to opposing players. Rather, it’s been a very decent home crowd — loud and more knowledgeable about hockey than I expected — so that kind of home swing is always a boost.
I’m also not sure the Knights would be here without Neal (six goals in seven games). He hasn’t scored a goal in two straight games, but his timely scoring was enough to get the team going.
And the goaltending has been fantastic. Marc-Andre Fleury, Malcolm Subban and now 23-year-old Oscar Dansk (the latter with a small sample size) have combined for a 2.37 goals-against average and 9.29 save percentage.
The real gem of this roster is its depth — especially on defense. And ironically that’s what I think is Vegas’ biggest hurdle going forward: managing a roster with so much depth at one position. And of course, the top two goalies are on IR. That’s never good.
Chris Peters: Luck is definitely a factor, too. The fact that a start like this has never happened before in the history of the game, regardless of PDO, should tell you there has to be some good fortune involved.
This is not a slight, it’s a fact of hockey: Even Cup winners need luck. The biggest factor in their success to me, however, is a bit more anecdotal. It has been huge that the two most established players they acquired in the expansion draft have been their two best players by a large margin.
Fleury’s performance before he was injured was downright heroic. His .925 save percentage while facing an average of 33-plus shots per game really covered for the Knights. Meanwhile, Neal has six goals and eight points through the first seven games. Given the situation, their early performances were far from a guarantee.
Neal has widely been believed as more valuable to the Golden Knights as trade bait rather than a long-term roster option. That might still be the case, but his and Fleury’s performances mean the world to this organization now and should resonate far into the future. They’re showing this team the way and laying a foundation from which this group can continue to build upon.
Reality might hit eventually, but with Neal and Fleury (when he gets healthy) at the wheel, enjoy the ride.