Can the Las Vegas Golden Knights create history again in 2018-19?
The hockey world will not soon forget what the Vegas Golden Knights accomplished in 2017-18. From nowhere (literally!), Vegas made a miraculous run to the Stanley Cup Finals. It was, of course, the most successful expansion season for any franchise in the history of the NHL. The Golden Knights racked up 109 points (third most in the Western Conference) to win the Pacific Division and then ran through the Los Angeles Kings (sweep), San Jose Sharks (six games), and Winnipeg Jets (five). Only at the final hurdle did Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals manage to stop the upstart Knights.
Now the question is: can they do it again?
The betting public is skeptical. The Golden Knights’ over/under season point total opened at a modest 96.5 and they started as the fourth favorite just in the Pacific Division behind the Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, and Calgary Flames. With a modest 4-4-1 record through nine games, not much has changed. Vegas is +375 to win the Pacific (tied for second with Anaheim and Calgary, trailing San Jose), +750 to win the Western Conference, and +1800 to lift the Stanley Cup.
The talent, though, is undoubtedly in place. The Golden Knights returned much of the roster from 2017-18 and they added Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny to the second line. Pacioretty, a 29-year-old forward, recently produced four consecutive seasons with at least 60 points with the Montreal Canadiens before contributing 37 points in 2017-18 while missing 18 games. Stastny, a 32-year-old center, had 16 goals and 37 assists during stints with the Jets and St. Louis Blues last season. He has exceeded the 70-point mark on three occasions throughout his 12-year career. Veteran Marc-Andre Fleury is back after reestablishing himself as one of the NHL’s best goalies during the 2017-18 campaign.
Buoyed by a change of scenery following 13 seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the 33-year-old enjoyed career-bests in goals-against average (2.24) and save percentage (.927). Amazingly enough, he starred his way through 20 playoff games with the exact same numbers. Vegas also recently re-signed forward Alex Tuch, whom it pilfered from the Minnesota Wild in the 2017 expansion draft, to a seven-year contract extension. Tuch produced 37 points during the 2017-18 regular season before adding 10 more in the playoffs on six goals and four assists.
The Vegas Answer
On paper, the pieces are there to solve the puzzle that is the franchise’s sophomore season and make another run to the Stanley Cup Finals. On the ice, however, the growing pains that somehow did not have to be endured last season and now rearing their ugly head. Stastny is likely out for two months due to a lower-body injury. Tuch played in just one of the first nine contests, also because of a lower-body issue. Defenseman Deryk Engelland (five goals, 18 assists in 2017-18) is on injured reserve. The Golden Knights are currently 29th out of 31 teams in scoring at an anemic 2.1 goals per game and dead last in power-play conversion percentage (7.1).
But after starting the 2018-19 campaign 1-4 without a single regulation victory during that stretch, the Knights went 3-0-1 in their next four while allowing a grand total of four goals. Fleury has caught fire, and the team as a whole is capable of doing the same.
Vegas is already starting to get back on track; it’s only natural that the sailing won’t be as smooth as it was throughout last season’s run.