The NHL’s latest Cinderella team, the Vegas Golden Knights, are continuing to do the impossible. Earlier in December, the Golden Knights became the fastest expansion team to hit the 20-win mark in their first season of operation, clocking in at 31 games.
After Tuesday night’s dramatic, last-second 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Golden Knights now sit atop the Western Conference with 46 points with the NHL’s second-best record of 22-9-2. We’re nearing the holiday break, but Vegas has lost just one game in regulation this entire month and recently took out the NHL’s top team in brilliant fashion.
The Golden Knights have captured the hearts of the hockey world, and for good reason. They’re a rag-tag bunch of extras from 30 other NHL teams, with more than a fair share of lovable stories among them. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury’s unfortunate breakaway from Pittsburgh has created some charged moments and has endeared him to the Golden Knights’ organization. The team managed to cultivate dynamic scoring from players like William Karlsson and David Perron, even after letting a big prize like Vadim Shipachyov go earlier in the season.
Their record isn’t a fluke either. Their possession numbers are positive, 50.65 percent at even strength, and their 2.71 GF/60 is fourth-best in the NHL. There was probably some voodoo magic involved in keeping the team afloat as goaltender after goaltender was injured, but every Cinderella team has an air of mystery and destiny around them.
What’s struck people the most, however, is Vegas’ home/away splits. At T-Mobile Arena, the Golden Knights have an astonishing 14-2-1 record. Away from home? It cools off to 8-7-1. Now, to be fair, most sports teams are better at home for one reason or another, but the sheer disparity between the splits has some people calling for an outbreak of the “Vegas Flu.”
In short, the distractions of a new hockey town like Vegas, with its already distracting brightness in a way New York’s magnitude is to a newcomer, may be lulling the competition in favor of the Golden Knights. There is no tried and true way to test if the “Vegas Flu” is something quantifiable, but the ESPN piece is a great way to dig into the puzzling phenomenon.
It does, however, raise questions for the rest of the Golden Knights’ season. The team’s home and away splits have been relatively even through their 33 games played so far this year. For the rest of the season, the Golden Knights will play 24 games at home and 25 games on the road. They will have to deal with long stretches of time away from T-Mobile Arena, as they have road trips of four, five, and six games scheduled for the rest of the season.
In fairness, the Golden Knights also have home stands of four, four, and seven games to end the season. The disparity of home and away games as we near the halfway mark of the season might not make a huge difference, but those away games will be the team’s biggest tests as we race closer to springtime. While the Western Conference isn’t as tightly packed as the East, stretches of poor play could be the difference by season’s end.
Much also has been made of the Golden Knights’ ability to have taken on big playoff monsters and come away victorious. Since the start of the season, the Golden Knights have played seven different teams in playoff seeds as of Wednesday and won games against them all. However, they also won all of them at home.
Now, they’ll have to face teams like the Nashville Predators, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Los Angeles Kings on different terms away from their home rink. They’ve beaten them all earlier this season, but they won’t have their biggest advantage behind them. Of course, Vegas has shown themselves to be a resilient bunch through the first third of the season, but the road seems to get harder from here.
While their home record may define their season come April, the biggest challenges the Golden Knights will face from here on out will likely be on the road.