Four months ago, the Vegas Golden Knights were off to the best start ever by an NHL expansion team. They started 6-1 in their first seven games and set fire to pre-season takes that they would miss the playoffs and finish at the bottom of the league.
At the time, I wrote a column trying to explain how a team that everyone thought would be so bad could start so hot. I attributed most of Vegas’ early success to unlikely heroes and an easy schedule, essentially calling the team a “flash in the pan,”
But the NHL season is more than two-thirds over and the Vegas Golden Knights are still sitting at the top of the Western Conference with 76 points. Calling Vegas a legit title contender is long overdue.
One of the biggest reasons for the success of the NHL’s newest team is the home ice advantage in Vegas. The Golden Knights are 19-4-2 at home this season, coincidentally suffering their fourth home loss Sunday night. No team has a better home record this season, and Vegas’ 0.76 winning percentage on home ice is better than last season’s league-leading 0.756 percent mark for the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
However, this same stat is commonly used to downplay the success of the team. It has been theorized that the addition of a team in Vegas has made it much easier for the home team because of the distractions that plague the visiting teams. A night out in Vegas makes for a more vulnerable team in the hockey rink the next day.
The Golden Knights have debunked this theory with wins over Winnipeg, Washington and San Jose – three of the league’s top 10 teams – in the past two weeks alone. A road record of 17-11-2 is nowhere near Vegas’ home results, but it’s stellar nonetheless. Just three teams have a better road winning percentage than the Golden Knights.
With a roster largely full of nobodies, Vegas was originally thought to be significantly outperforming its capabilities. However, that may be the source of its success in itself. In the expansion draft, the Golden Knights were able to select from a pool of players that were left unprotected by their respective teams. The group of selected players likely have chips on their shoulders and feel undervalued and unappreciated, leading to career-highs for many.
For example, the Golden Knights are led in points by Jonathan Marchessault. The 27-year-old’s 54 points rank 18th in the league and are already a career-high for a player who first broke into the NHL in 2012-13.
David Perron is Vegas’ assist leader and second on the team in points. With 49 points two-thirds through the season, Perron is on pace to shatter his career-high of 57 points set in 2013-14. Perron is in the 13th year of his career and is enjoying his best year yet, highlighted by three of his four career overtime goals coming this season.
We can go up and down the entire roster and find players with similar breakout seasons. This can be partly attributed to the lack of star-power on the Golden Knights, but the players have clearly come together for an underdog story that would make the Philadelphia Eagles look like Goliath to Vegas’ David.
The Vegas Golden Knights are currently +600 to win this year’s Stanley Cup, tied with the preseason favorite and league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning for the best odds in the NHL. If you’ve doubted Vegas like I have, it’s time to open up your eyes and realize that this team can legitimately make a deep run in the playoffs.
Josh Buser is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.