There were many words used to express the Vegas Golden Knights beginning their first season in the National Hockey League but nobody would have said top money maker, best expansion team in history and virtual shoe-in for the playoffs.
The Knights continue to confound the experts by refusing to play like the 8-win Washington Capitals when they broke into the league. We knew basically two players – goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and forward James Neal. Everyone else was a mystery. Jonathan Marchessault has 32 points in 31 games. William Karlsson has a career best 16 goals and we haven’t even played half the season.
A mystery that is except for GM George McPhee, who has assembled players that never take the foot off the gas pedal and represent better than any other the model of “next man up.” The team has won with five different goaltenders.
Vegas is almost unbeatable at home, where many critics questioned whether more people in T-Mobile Arena would be rooting for the Knights or the opposition. Well, Vegas is +1236 dollars (per $100 wager) at home, by far the best among the 31 NHL franchises.
Vegas also has six players with 20 or more points and Colin Miller will soon make it seven with his 19. Neal has 17 goals and Fleury, after sitting out two months with a concussion, has been lights out since his return. The team is 8-1 in its last nine heading into this week’s end of the year slate that features games Wednesday at Anaheim, Thursday at Los Angeles and Sunday at home with Toronto for New Year’s Eve.
We should have a giant glass of the bubbly to toast the Golden Knights and great expectations of what is to come in 2018 leading up to the Stanley Cup playoffs at the beginning of March.
Playoffs? Yes, you could have had Vegas at 500-1 to win the Cup. Now you will be lucky to find anything above 15-1. The expansion tag is an insult. This is an elite team, which has knocked off every division leader except New Jersey and that’s only because they don’t play the Devils until March.
Even two-time defending Cup champ Pittsburgh lost at T-Mobile. In fact in the past week, the Golden Knights beat the Penguins, Tampa Bay and Washington all in row. The Lightning lead the NHL in points. So who’s to say just how far Vegas can go in the playoffs?
Happy New Year.