Vegas Golden Knights off to historic 7-1-0 start in inaugural season

Knights

The Vegas Golden Knights defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 4-2 Tuesday night, thus extending the team’s winning streak to four games and giving the franchise an improbable 7-1-0 record to kick-start the regular season.

The win followed a 3-2 overtime victory against the St. Louis Blues, which officially made the Golden Knights the first team in NHL history to win six out of its first seven games in its inaugural season.

The wins against St. Louis and Chicago prove that this team might have more than just beginner’s luck. After all, the Vegas club has endured its fair share of adversity so far this season.

With injuries to starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and backup goaltender Malcolm Subban, the team has turned to Swedish netminder Oscar Dansk, who made his first NHL appearance when he replaced the injured Subban last Saturday against the Blues. He followed up that overtime win with his first career NHL start against Chicago on Tuesday, giving him two wins in two career NHL appearances.

Not bad.

Dansk remains the team’s starter with Subban set to miss around four weeks, though Fleury could return at some point next week. He is “days away,” according to head coach Gerard Gallant.

But the goalie situation is a great example of how this team seems to respond to challenges that come with being an expansion team in today’s competitive NHL. The Knights keep things simple and continue to find ways to win hockey games with complete team efforts. Everyone in the lineup contributes.

Fleury stopped 72 of 74 shots in the team’s first two games of the year, both 2-1 wins on the road.

Sniper James Neal scored the franchise’s first goal, first overtime goal and first power-play goal and has six tallies and eight points in eight games this season.

Defenseman Deryk Engelland, a native of Las Vegas, has a goal and four points despite being known as a defensive defenseman.

Even fourth-line penalty-kill specialist Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, known as one of the least productive forwards in the NHL, netted the game-winning goal against the Blackhawks for his first of the season.

All 18 skaters, no matter who they are, work hard every night.

William Karlsson has come up big with goals in back-to-back games (including the OT game-winner against St. Louis) and points in four straight, and Reilly Smith has five points in his last three games. Plus, two rookie goaltenders with practically zero NHL experience have a combined record of 4-0-0.

When the team exploded for five goals in the Oct. 10 home opener, many assumed it was just a reaction to the energy in the building and an emotional response to the moving pre-game ceremony that honored the victims and first responders from the tragedy that struck Las Vegas Oct. 1.

While it’s fair to say that the fast start that night had at least something to do with the atmosphere in T-Mobile Arena, the five games since have proven that there is more to this team than meets the eye.

Sure, the team has played those five games at home, and one of those games featured a third-period collapse that saw the Red Wings score four unanswered goals.

But that doesn’t erase the fact that the team is eighth in the league with 3.38 goals per game despite poor numbers on the power play. It doesn’t erase the fact that three goaltenders have made a combined 251 saves on 270 shots against, ranking the Knights 30th in the league in goals against. It doesn’t erase the fact that an expansion team that many expected to vie for the first overall pick in next year’s draft currently sits fourth overall in the entire NHL with 14 points through eight games.

Yes, the team has played a positive role in the wake of the tragedy, and the historic start is representative of the Las Vegas spirit.

But the Golden Knights have been impressive. Period.

However, there are still 74 games left to be played, and the true fate of the team in its opening campaign has yet to be decided. After all, this is a brand new expansion team with short- and long-term goals. Hockey is hockey, and the logistics of a grueling 82-game season take a toll on every team, including Vegas.

Currently, the Knights are dealing with less-than-ideal roster circumstances, with 13 forwards, nine defensemen and two goalies with the big club. The team’s unconventional roster makeup has led to some issues.

One issue in particular that has been front and center is the ongoing controversy surrounding Russian center Vadim Shipachyov. As of yesterday, the Knights have given permission to Shipachyov’s representatives to seek a trade after the 30-year-old was reassigned to the AHL for the second time this season.

The reality behind the demotion is the logjam of skaters, especially defensemen, on the NHL roster. Shipachyov is one of a few waiver-exempt players on the team, which is why he was sent down initially. However, after getting recalled and skating in three games with the Knights (and scoring his first career NHL goal in the process), Shipachyov was reassigned to the club’s AHL affiliate a few days ago to make room for forward Jonathan Marchessault, who was returning from injured reserve. Even though Vegas general manager George McPhee and Shipachyov’s agent denied reports that Shipachyov considered returning to the KHL after getting sent down at the start of the season, the latest reassignment seems to have set things in motion that likely will lead to Shipachyov leaving the Golden Knights organization in one way or another. The Golden Knights brought Shipachyov in to be the team’s first-line center, signing him to a two-year, $9 million deal in early May. But things have changed.

Ironically, part of the issue is the team’s early success. The Knights have won regardless of Shipachyov’s presence in the lineup, and the team-wide effort night after night makes Shipachyov somewhat expendable. Since Shipachyov is 30, not 18, sitting around in the AHL as McPhee fails to manage the team’s surplus of defensemen is not practical, nor is it fair. The entire situation has been handled poorly, and more than likely the team is going to lose a KHL star who never had a chance to prove himself.

But with wins against Dallas, Arizona, Boston, Buffalo, St. Louis and Chicago, the Golden Knights are showing no signs of slowing down. Though the Shipachyov situation is unfortunate, it should not undermine or detract from the team’s impressive start. Now that Marchessault has returned from IR and Fleury is nearing a return, the future is bright for the Vegas Golden Knights. At this point, the team is not only rewriting history, it’s making it.
 
 

Featured Image via NHL.com