Though general manager George McPhee spent months planning, strategizing, and working the phones in order to build an ideal inaugural roster for the Vegas Golden Knights, it’s fair to assume even he didn’t imagine the expansion club starting off their first season like they have.
Aside from a lone loss to the Detroit Red Wings, the Golden Knights have been dominant thus far, posting an 8-1 record that has them off to the most successful start of any expansion team in league history.
But the speed at which Vegas got to eight wins – the fastest by any expansion club since 1968 – is just one of the many eyebrow-raising stats attached to this team’s current run.
With the club looking to extend their five-game winning streak on Monday against the New York Islanders, here’s a look at some of the most impressive numbers surrounding the Golden Knights’ quick start:
James Neal, more real a deal than anyone thought
The addition of veteran sniper James Neal was one of the Golden Knights’ biggest expansion draft victories, made possible by the Nashville Predators’ decision to expose Neal in the draft for financial reasons.
That might be stinging a bit at the moment. While the Predators rank sixth-worst in terms of goals per game so far, Vegas sits with the third-best average in the league. And Neal is driving that bus, having posted an absurd seven goals through nine games this year.
Where does that leave the former 40-goal-scorer? Among the league’s top five in terms of goals per game, firstly. Also, on pace for one of the finest offensive seasons of his career, regardless of how much his play drops off from here on out.
Neal’s current pace has him on track to score more than 60 goals by the season’s end. The chances of him reaching that plateau are about the same as the Golden Knights handing Vadim Shipachyov the captaincy (slim to none), but even if Neal regresses back to his career scoring average of 0.38 goals per game for the team’s remaining 73 contests, he’d still finish 2017-18 with roughly 35 goals.
That total would rank as the second-best showing from the 30-year-old in the big leagues, sitting just below the career-best season he spent alongside Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin.
Vegas’ goaltending improves as they turn to goalies with progressively less experience
The other bona fide star in Vegas’ expansion draft haul, Marc-Andre Fleury, started off well for his new club, posting three wins in four appearances and a save percentage of .925 before being sidelined with a concussion.
So Vegas turned to Malcolm Subban, only just acquired at the time, who checked into the starting spot with just two prior NHL appearances on his resumé (and six goals allowed between those two). In what has become typical Golden Knights fashion, Subban nearly posted a shutout in his first start for Vegas, allowing a goal only in the tilt’s final 30 seconds.
Through three appearances in total, Subban went undefeated and even bested Fleury’s numbers with a save percentage of .936.
Until he was similarly sidelined by injury, forcing Vegas to turn to an even more unproven name: Oscar Dansk, who had never played a minute of NHL action.
Rewind the tape and play it again. Dansk helped Vegas hold on for the win in the game that saw Subban injured, before coming up with exceptional performances in two subsequent starts. First, 29 saves on 31 shots from the offensively gifted Chicago Blackhawks, then a 32-save shutout against the Colorado Avalanche in just his second NHL start.
All in all, a .959 save percentage and the only shutout in the Golden Knights history for Dansk, as the club keeps on winning.
Meshing early as a team, the Golden Knights are rewriting expansion history
Individual performances aside, the club’s team-wide numbers in relation to their NHL competitors are even more impressive.
Offensively, Vegas has seen every single player on the roster but one – defenceman Jon Merrill – record at least one point through the first nine games of the season. The Golden Knights’ most dominant win so far, their 7-0 drubbing of the Avalanche on Friday, saw the team get goals from seven different scorers, and from players skating on all four lines.
On the back end, though the team is allowing the seventh-most shots per game (33.6), they’ve managed to allow the second-fewest goals per game (2.11) thus far due to their surprisingly stable goaltending.
That balance has the Golden Knights in the midst of a five-game winning streak, tied for the longest any NHL team has put together at any point during their inaugural season. For a frame of reference, the Washington Capitals – now a perennial juggernaut and annual Stanley Cup contender – achieved only eight wins in their entire first season.
These things take time. But Vegas is apparently not content on waiting, having matched that total in less than a month.
Where they go from here may be another story. A quick start doesn’t say much about how a team will perform when the the grind of the season begins to wear on them and the true contenders settle into their rhythms. But right now, the Golden Knights are the toast of the town, and are off to what seems set to be nothing short of an exceptionally successful debut season.