As the NHL heads into All-Star weekend, it’s as good a time as any to take a look at where things stand. And that means recognizing that the Vegas Golden Knights sit atop the Western Conference with 68 points.
The team is three points behind the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning and two points ahead of the Winnipeg Jets, who hold the lead in the Central Division.
The Golden Knights are 32-12-4 just over the halfway mark, with 164 goals for and 128 goals against. Only the Lightning and New York Islanders have scored more goals thus far.
It pays to remember that many sports writers were effectively dismissing Vegas before the club even took the ice. Stubbornly, many sports writers continued to decry the early success of the franchise as an anomaly. It’s easy to diminish the accomplishments of the expansion team, after all.
But the Golden Knights now look primed to go where no other expansion team has gone before and will in all likelihood be playoff-bound in their debut season.
With Gerard Gallant behind the bench and George McPhee running the show in the front office, Vegas has been jamming the T-Mobile Arena with fans full in the knowledge that this club is for real.
Gallant was on McPhee’s radar for the coaching gig as soon as the former was released by the Florida Panthers, for what it’s worth. In effect, that message has been central in building a mythos behind the expansion team: the Golden Knights have been comprised of cast-offs and rejects.
“The same can be said about this group that we have,” said McPhee. “We were all rejected in one way or another. A lot of us in the organization have been fired, and we’ve all come together and got a second chance. Gerard has been very instrumental in the good performance of this team so far.”
Indeed, building the story of adversity has been aided greatly by the fact that the Golden Knights have managed to put together a top-tier product on the ice. Led by William Karlsson, James Neal, Erik Haula, and Jonathan Marchessault in the scoring department, Vegas has put together an offensive push that lacks pretence.
And they’ve won piles of games with their top netminders down with injury, a problem that’s been masked with an adherence to Gallant’s up-tempo system, a system that’s enabled the Golden Knights to roll four lines on most nights.
Granted, the team could implode after the All-Star break and everything could come back down to earth. The cynical writers might be correct in their assertions that McPhee doesn’t know how to build a hockey team and the Golden Knights could just be a flash in the pan, an early success story that fizzles out after a flaring start.
Or Vegas could challenge for hockey’s ultimate prize, putting the rest of the league on notice and cementing the simple fact that heart, grit and a practical system can account for success in a league where Edmonton Oilers-esque skill doesn’t always get results.