I vividly remember talking with our former editor-in-chief, Jack O’Brien, towards the end of last season about the excitement of an expansion team in the NHL. The most turbulence brought about by the Golden Knights at that point had been the threats posed to every team in the league by an expansion draft. No fan wanted to see their favorite players on their favorite teams get sent to a little startup team out in the middle of the desert. In hindsight, our concerns should have been over the fact that the Golden Knights would pose a real threat.
Now, don’t get me wrong, my fear of the Golden Knights does not come with any resentment. I’ve watched more Vegas hockey so far this season than I have the Minnesota Wild, my oddly-placed favorites. Instead, I respect the ability of this expansion team to quickly shrug the underdog label they were automatically given as a new team. A 9-5-1 record is nothing to scoff at and neither is a spot as the second seed in the Pacific Division.
In the wake of the Vegas shooting, the Golden Knights created a rallying point for the recovering city. Their inaugural home game took place only nine days after the tragedy and resulted in a 5-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes and a 3-0 record to start their season, a NHL record for an expansion team. Vegas Strong, indeed.
Their social media also stood strong in the face of adversity, giving witty commentary and embodying the art of chirping (their bio reads, “The official Twitter of the Vegas Golden Knights, the NHL’s newest team. Proud member of the league’s original 31”). If a team’s social media presence factored into their record for the season, the Golden Knights would be well ahead of any competition.
The Golden Knights’ success is, without a doubt, a product of the depth of their roster. It’s what sets them apart from any other expansion team. The team’s top scorers, left wings James Neal and David Perron, have each managed 12 points in 14 games. Following behind them are right wing Reilly Smith with 11 and centers William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault with 10. At their current pace, the Golden Knights have at least four players who can break the 50-point mark by the end of the season.
Their competence doesn’t just lie on the shoulders of the offensive leaders, however. The Golden Knights can manage a strong performance whether or not they have possession of the puck (though when they do they can really run up the score: 7-0 against the Colorado Avalanche). A strong defensive game balances their offensive prowess, going so far as to require established clubs like the Red Wings and the Rangers to put up more than four goals just to secure a victory.
The biggest setback for the good ol’ Golden Knights so far has been the health of their goalies. Starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has been out since the Knights’ fourth regular season game, though initial concerns for the aging goalie were more for his sustainability through the season than when he would return to the ice. Backup goalies Malcolm Subban and Oscar Dansk both found their way onto the injured reserve list after three games. Though the Golden Knights have ran through most of their goalies, with only Maxime Lagace and Dylan Ferguson left to tend the pipes, they’ve held up a strong last line of defense. We can only hope that their roster rebounds in time to round out the bulk of the season.
I firmly believe that it’s impossible to not be impressed with the Golden Knights’ performance. For an expansion team to perform the way they have right out of the gate is unprecedented. The Golden Knights could feasibly make it to the Stanley Cup playoffs with the same thunder in their skates with which they started the season and maybe, just maybe, make sports history and win it all.