The Vegas Golden Knights have started out their inaugural National Hockey League season with a 19-9-2 record in their first 30 games, which is amazing on several different levels. It's unreal for an expansion team to play that well right out of the gate, and the Golden Knights did most of that damage without their top goaltender.
Let that sink in for a moment: An expansion team without its No. 1 goalie for 25 of the first 30 games still managed to win enough matchups to be securely in second place among Pacific Division teams and fifth place overall in the Western Conference.
Vegas got veteran and three-time Stanley Cup champion Marc-Andre Fleury back from a concussion on Tuesday, and despite an overtime shootout loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at T-Mobile Arena in his first game back, this is nothing but good news for the Golden Knights. The team still has four more home games in Sin City before the holidays—and nicely spaced out, too—for Fleury to burn off rust from his two-month absence.
Fleury is now 3-1-1 with a 2.35 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage, but without the yeoman efforts of the organization's No. 4 goalie Maxime Lagace (6-6-1 record in his NHL debut season) and Malcolm Subban (7-2-0, 2.33 GAA, .924 save percentage), the team wouldn't be where it is in the standings right now. So getting Fleury back in the fold right now is a bonus, really, and it will help the Golden Knights in the long run.
Consider this: First, Fleury is 33 years old, and the two months off ice saved his body's stamina for the most important stretch of the season coming up—that stretch from Games 30-60 where jockeying for playoff position occurs. Second, the franchise got the feet wet of not one but two young goalies (Oscar Dansk was 3-0-0 with a 1.78 GAA and a .946 save percentage before he too got hurt), giving the team extraordinary depth and talent at the most key position in the game.
And third, the Golden Knights know they can turn to any goaltender in their stable now and keep winning. That kind of confidence flows down the bench from skater to skater, so no one on the roster has any doubts about winning on a nightly basis, regardless of who in the crease behind them. That's a tremendously valuable mental edge for Vegas.
Fleury made 35 saves in regulation and overtime before the shootout, and although he missed a chance to win the game for his teammates in the third round of the shootout, it's clear he's going to be able to stay sharp this season. Subban clearly can start at any time, giving Fleury the ongoing rest he needs.
This is the best possible scenario for the Golden Knights as they try to become the first expansion team to make the postseason in NHL history since 1967—although that doesn't really count, since all the expansion teams were put in one conference together in opposition of the Original Six. Thus, it was guaranteed some of them would make the postseason.
Vegas is setting the new standard for professional sports expansion teams, and General Manager George McPhee should be proud of what he and Head Coach Gerard Gallant have done in Sin City over the first 30 games of the Golden Knights' first NHL season. The team appears on the verge of becoming even more noteworthy.
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