Las Vegas–This inaugural season for the National Hockey League’s newest franchise has been something great to watch in the Vegas Golden Knights and they play not as your typical expansion club, with their early success, has the talk transitioned them to a legit Stanley Cup Playoff Contender?
Vegas Knights of The Roundtable takes a look with an in depth analysis to answer that burning question.
Back in the month of October when the Golden Knights hit the ice in regular season fashion with the 30 other teams around the league people were talking about how would they perform right out of the gate.
Well they answered that question quickly with their 3-0-0 start of the 2017-18 season which was a league first by any that started off in an inaugural campaign.
The Golden Knights opened on the road in Dallas when they took on the Stars where they fell behind but with the mindset that Vegas Owner Bill Foley has echoed, “we never give up, never give in, always advance” the team did just that.
His team did just that and it was James Neal who scored the franchise’s first goal in club history and game winning strike for the 2-1 victory.
They followed up that same mindset when they took on the Arizona Coyotes in Glendale.
The Golden Knights ended up beating the “Desert Dogs” in come from behind fashion with Nate Schmidt tying it late in the 3rd and Neal scoring the organizations first ever overtime marker with another 2-1 win.
For the Golden Knights their inaugural home opener in franchise history was a special one for the Vegas hockey fans to remember. The organization that night paid tribute to those affected by the 1 October shooting that took place at the “Route 91 Harvest Festival Concert” across from the Mandalay Bay Casino Resort.
That night was capped off by a 5-2 performance by the Golden Knights that was inspired by a very powerful pre-game “We Are Vegas Strong” keynote speech from defenseman Deryk Engelland.
Their first loss of the season came at the hands of the original six franchise Detroit Red Wings where the Golden Knights were defeated by a 6-3 score. That was also the night in which goaltender Marc-André Fleury suffered a concussion injury by Red Wings forward Anthony Mantha. The replayed showed that Mantha’s right knee made direct contact with Fleury’s head that caused him to have soreness in his neck for the rest of the contest.
After the injury of starting netminder Fleury, that’s when the goaltending carousel happened where Malcolm Subban was slotted in as the interim new starter in the absence of 3-time Stanley Cup goalie.
From October 15 thru December 9 the Golden Knights used practically 4 goalies including a prospect in Dylan Ferguson. Subban would get hurt during the October 21 game vs the Blues. So the majority of that span we saw a combination Oscar Dansk and Maxime Lagace.
Their most recent Eastern Conference road swing Vegas finished that trip with the a 1-4-1 riding the wave of a Dansk and Lagace rotation.
Overall from 15 October to December 9 Vegas collected 19 wins and 10 total losses what was really good given the circumstances of their goaltending situation. In those affairs they were able to finds ways to win hockey games.
With the return of Fleury he’s been able to come away with a 2-1 record (including the 2-1 victory over his former team the Penguins and last night’s 4-3 win against the league leading Tampa Bay Lightning) which is added to his overall performance this season thru 7 starts at 5-1-1. His primary back Subban slots in nicely with an 8-2-0 record thru 10 game’s in which he started in net for Vegas.
In looking back Dansk and Lagace in relief when both Subban and Fleury were out injured had a combined record of 9-6-1 which is very good all things considered that they are 3rd and 4th string goalies that had no prior NHL regular season experience coming into the 2017-18 season.
At home this season after their wild 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning from the night before, the Golden Knights record at T-Mobile Arena this season is an impressive 14-2-1 (.853 winning percentage), while on the road away from “The Fortress” they are 8-7-1 (.500 winning percentage). Don’t let this road record fool you because keep in mind this was when the team was employing a very green goalie combo.
Going forward the Golden Knights record away from Vegas should a major improvement when it’s Fleury and Subban between the pipes.
In terms of team offense, the Golden Knights have had the luxury with the services of Neal, Erik Haula, William Karlsson, and David Perron as serious game winning goal scorers with Vegas this season in 13 of the teams 22 wins this year. That equates to 59.1% of the time in which these 4 forwards are the hero’s in finding the back of net at scoring the game winners for Vegas.
Neal, Karlsson, Haula, and Jonathan Marchessault are the teams current 4 players that have scored at least 10 goals or more this season with the Golden Knights. Neal leads the team with 17, Karlsson who is having a career year this season with Vegas has 15, Haula with 13 (10 of them in the 3rd period “The Finnish Clutch), Marchessault anchors the line at 12 of his own.
Outside these top goal scorers of Neal, Karlsson, Haula, and Marchessault lies an army of players that have scored at least 5 goals or more but less than 10 for the team. These players are leading the list are Reilly Smith with 9, Perron and Alex Tuch each have 7, Oscar Lindberg sitting on 6, and defenseman Colin Miller with 5.
In terms of logging at least 20 minutes or more per game, the Golden Knights this have had the pleasure of blueliners Schmidt, Luca Sbisa, and Brayden McNabb in carrying the load for Vegas night in a night out this season thus far. Currently this season, Schmidt leads the Golden Knights with an ATOI of 22:36, Sbisa at 20:19, and McNabb with 20:03.
Throughout the season, Schmidt’s season high in TOI was against Nashville (December 8) where he logged a staggering 28:08, McNabb’s high was vs Anaheim (December 5) where he clocked in at 24:29, and Sbisa not too shabby against Toronto (November 6) with 24:25.
Their “International Line” of Nosek-Bellemare-Carrier is one of the best in the league. Bellemare provide’s stable leader in the bottom six and he leads by example with his work ethic and battle level in terms of blocking shots, that’s one of his specialties which is a very good thing for the Golden Knights
So the goaltending is there with the team, they are getting goal contributions from 9 players on the team with at least 5 goals or more, 4 of them in double digits at 10+, and big minute eaters from three of their 6/7 fellow defenseman, work done in the lower lines are present, the question are the Vegas Golden Knights a legit Stanley Cup Playoff contender, the answer that we can provide is yes.