I think I’ve sort of avoided writing about them, because it all seems too deeply weird to be real, let alone to be anything close to sustainable, but there’s really no other option but to acknowledge it now: The Vegas Golden Knights, by pure winning percentage if not quite by points, have the best record in the NHL.
Yes, those Golden Knights. The expansion team that went out of its way to avoid picking certain good, immediately useful players, in order to stockpile draft picks and prospects in the hopes of building a longer-term success. I don’t feel bad for having said this! They ought to be very, very bad; even the most talented expansion roster in the league’s history shouldn’t equate to anywhere near what’s happening. But here we are. After last night’s 4-2 home win over the Blackhawks, Vegas is 7-1-0.
The win was typical of the relatively balanced scoring VGK’s been getting: Four Knights scored, and James Neal, one of the roster’s few veterans and who leads the team with six goals while no one else has more than three, was kept off the scoresheet. “Everything’s gone our way right now, we’re working hard and competing hard,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “It’s all about a team with us. It’s a team game and that’s how we want to play.”
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, centering what’s been a pretty spunky fourth line with Will Carrier and Tomas Nosek, potted a one-timer from Nosek for what would ultimately be the gamewinning goal, just seconds after Chicago quashed a four-minute power play.
Jonathan Marchessault, freshly activated from IR after a lower-body injury 10 days ago, sealed things midway through the third with a power-play BB from the left circle.
If you’re looking for a hero on the night, that’d be 23-year-old Swedish netminder Oscar Dansk, making just his first NHL start. A third-stringer, Dansk is now the starter by necessity, as Marc-Andre Fleury waits to recover from a concussion and Malcolm Subban will miss at least the next month with a lower-body injury. But Dansk continued the Knights’ strong early-season goaltending, making 29 stops, including stoning Patrick Sharp on a breakaway and flashing a sexy glove save to deny Richard Panik. Dansk, a second-round draft pick by Columbus in 2012, never made it out of the AHL and got so frustrated he went back to play in Sweden for two years before signing as a free agent with Vegas.
But Dansk’s unexpected success feels right on a team where everything’s going right; this early-season surge is happening mostly without projected top-line center Vadim Shipachyov, who’s been riding the shuttle to and from the AHL and is reportedly so unhappy with his nonexistent role that he’s trying to force an exit to the KHL.
There are lots of good reasons not to believe in the Golden Knights. Their PDO, a measure of shooting percentage and save percentage (which are generally flattened across the league, given enough of a sample), is very high, meaning, essentially, they’ve been very lucky. Their schedule has been a relatively easy one, fattening up on Arizona and facing just three teams in their first eight games that made the postseason last year. They’ve opened with six of their first eight games at home. (And we should probably not underestimate the home-ice advantage of playing in Las Vegas, and what it means for visiting teams going out late the night before.) Given everything that’s been working in their favor, whatever VGK is going to be, it’s almost certainly not this.
But this is the NHL, where more teams make the postseason than don’t. So in an inaugural season where the Knights were supposed to be fighting in the cellar with the likes of the Coyotes and Avalanche, it’s no longer crazy talk to wonder aloud if Vegas could realistically compete for a playoff spot. The answer is still probably a resounding no, but this is fun while it lasts.