By Steve Silverman
It’s time to address the elephant in the room. The Vegas Golden Knights are simply on a roll in their first season in the NHL.
Through 47 games, Vegas has reeled off a 32-11-4 record and have accumulated 68 points. The Tampa Bay Lightning are the only team with more, but the one-point difference is hardly worth noting. The Lightning have played one more game than the Golden Knights, and the expansion team has been a bit more consistent of late.
Vegas is 6-2-2 in its last 10 games, while the Lightning is just 5-4-1 in its last 10, and Jon Cooper’s team needed a late goal by Steve Stamkos to tie the Nashville Predators Tuesday night and an overtime goal by Yanni Gourde to win it.
The Golden Knights have been amazingly consistent, and their play at home has been ridiculous. Their 19-2-2 home record seems like something the Montreal Canadiens or Boston Bruins would have put together in the 1970s. Teams rarely dominate like that at home any more.
For this to be accomplished by an expansion team is so far out of the normal realm of possibility as to be shocking. It’s not supposed to be easy to win in the NHL. Every team outside of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have won back-to-back Stanley Cups, has to wonder what’s going on. How can it be this easy for an expansion team to win in the NHL?
Give plenty of credit to general manager George McPhee for putting together a winning team, and even more credit to head coach Gerard Gallant for doing a sensational job of motivating his team and preparing it to play on an every-night basis.
Center Jonathan Marchessault leads the team with 46 points, while William Karlsson has potted 27 goals to lead the team in that category, and he also has 42 points.
Wingers David Perron, Reilly Smith, Erick Haula and James Neal have been taking advantage of nearly every chance they get, while they also have a defenseman in Colin Miller who has a cannon of a shot from the point.
In addition to the offensive production, the Golden Knights have gotten stellar goal-tending from Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban. Fleury, who was injured early in the year, has a 1.75 goals-against average, a .944 save percentage and a 12-3-2 record, while Subban has a 2.49 GAA, .914 save percentage and an 11-2-1 record.
Compare this to teams like Buffalo, Carolina and Arizona, who have been suffering near the bottom of the league for years. Those teams continue to take one step forwards and two steps backwards. Their losing ways continue.
The Golden Knights have loud and supportive fans, and they have been better than any expansion team in NHL history. However, what happens if they finish with the best record in the league and win round after round in the playoffs?
The NHL can spin this as a “remarkable” and “amazing” story. However, if the Golden Knights make it to the Western Conference final or Stanley Cup Final, it will also be an embarrassment. It’s not supposed to be this easy, and if the Golden Knights end up with a championship parade down the Vegas Strip, the rest of the league will be wiping egg off their collective faces for quite a while.
Balanced Bruins continuing to roll
The Boston Bruins seemed like a potential playoff contender at the start of the season, with a chance to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference as a wild-card team or possibly find themselves on the outside looking in.
They played in that manner in the month and a half of the season when they compiled with a 6-7-4 record. Since that point, they have a sensational 22-3-4 record, thanks to iconic leadership from Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara, superb goal-tending from Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin, and brilliant offensive contributions from Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.
The Bruins have also been getting fine production from their second line led by David Krejci along with Ryan Spooner and rookie Jake DeBrusk, along with a third line that features David Backes, Riley Nash and rookie Danton Heinen.
Defenseman Charlie McAvoy is a legitimate rookie of the year candidate, as he is averaging 22:49 of playing time per game with five goals and 20 assists. McAvoy has played like a stud since joining the team in last year’s playoff meeting with the Ottawa Senators, but he was sidelined earlier this week after undergoing a procedure on his heart called an ablation, after he reported palpitations.
The Bruins have said that McAvoy is doing fine and will be back in the lineup in early February, but it’s still a scary situation.
Marchand may well be the best left wing in the league with 21 goals and 29 assists in 38 games, but he still plays on the edge and he has once again been called into the league for a “discussion” after firing an elbow at Marcus Johansson of the Devils Tuesday night.
The Bruins are rolling with a 13-0-4 point streak right now, and they may turn out to be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. The positives are Bergeron, Chara, youth, depth, goal-tending and the coaching of Bruce Cassidy.
However, if Marchand continues to put his team at risk or the McAvoy situation suddenly turns even more serious, the Bruins could take a negative turn.
Blackhawks fall is precipitous
Hockey fans are used to seeing the dynamic duo of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews lead the Chicago Blackhawks to Stanley Cup-contending status.
They have won three Stanley Cups since 2010, and the feeling is that they have been capable of a long playoff run nearly every year because of their skill, puck possession and clutch goal-tending.
The team went into shock during last year’s playoffs when they were swept in the first round by the Nashville Predators, and it has gotten worse – much worse – this season. The Blackhawks are an ordinary 22-19-6 through 47 games, and they are a moribund 12-10-2 at home.
Chicago is seven points behind the Colorado Avalanche, the team currently in the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference. They would have to jump over four teams if they are going to make the playoffs.
Goalie Corey Crawford has missed significant time with a still-undisclosed injury, while superstars like Toews (31 points), Duncan Keith (0 goals, 22 assists, minus-7) and Brent Seabrook (13 points) have been underachievers.
This appears to be the season that the Blackhawks fail to make the playoffs, and the good times come to an end in Chicago.
The City of Broad Shoulders is getting ready for a depressing spring.
Numbers, we have numbers
Karlsson not only has 27 goals, he has made his shots count. He has taken exactly 100 shots on goal, and he is connecting on 27 percent of his shots this season. Karlsson scored six goals for the Columbus Blue Jackets last year and connected on 6.3 percent of his 96 shots. … Sean Monahan of the Calgary Flames, Brayden Point of the Lightning and Nathan McKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche are tied for the league lead with seven game-winning goals each. … Ryan O’Reilly of the Buffalo Sabres is winning 61.4 percent of his faceoffs, and that’s the top figure in the league. He is followed by Antoine Vermette of the Anaheim Ducks, Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers, Bergeron and Toews. .. Marchand is leading the league with 1.32 points per game, followed by McKinnon at 1.28 and Nikita Kucherov at 1.27.