The Vegas Golden Knights are 27 games from making National Hockey League history. Assuming the team avoids a catastrophic meltdown on the ice, it will be the first NHL expansion team to make the Stanley Cup playoffs since 1967. Vegas still is in first place among Pacific Division teams right now, and the majority of the remaining games are on home ice at T-Mobile Arena in Sin City.
The standings currently favor the Golden Knights in the Pacific Division, as Vegas leads San Jose by eight points with a game in hand. Calgary is in third, ten points back but has played an extra game as well. Los Angeles is in fourth and 11 points behind the Golden Knights. Anaheim is tied with L.A., although it has played two extra games.
What Happened Last Week?
It was an interesting week for the Golden Knights, as they lost two of the three games they played. But they didn't lose the games we thought they would. Vegas went to Pittsburgh on Tuesday and lost an exciting 5-4 contest, as the Penguins fans paid their respects to several Golden Knights who once toiled in Pittsburgh.
Then, after a cross-country flight, Vegas took on San Jose in Silicon Valley Thursday evening. Trailing 3-2 in the third period, the Golden Knights ripped off three straight scores to escape with a 5-3 win. This is a game we assumed the tired team would drop, after the long flight and the even-longer six-game road trip.
Instead, the Vegas squad came home on Sunday and lost to the suddenly hot Philadelphia Flyers, perhaps crashing a bit emotionally and physically from the ten road matchups in 12 games stretch they'd just completed.
1. D Brayden McNabb: If you saw this coming last week, go buy a lottery ticket right now. McNabb had a big week, scoring the game-tying goal in the third period against San Jose on Thursday and then netting the only goal for the Golden Knights on Sunday against the Flyers. McNabb has only four goals this season, but he's averaging over 20 minutes of ice time per game to make him presence felt in other ways.
2. C Jon Marchessault: It was another four-point week for the Golden Knights' leading scorer. Marchessault has 52 points in 50 games this season, after he registered a goal and an assist on both Tuesday and Thursday. His goal against Pittsburgh in the third period was a laser shot that beat Penguins goaltender Matt Murray short side and absolutely just quieted the hometown crowd.
3. LW James Neal: He had a two-goal week, including a sweet backhand shot that beat Murray on Tuesday night to give the Golden Knights a fleeting 2-0 lead in that game. Neal once played for the Penguins, so the goal was extra special. He is now second on the Vegas roster with 24 goals this season.
Highlight of the Week
Even though the Golden Knights would lose Tuesday in Pittsburgh to the two-time defending champions, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury—a man very responsible for three Cup titles in Pittsburgh during his career—made it clear that Vegas was there to play for keeps. Just a few seconds into the game, the Golden Knights veteran stoned two-time league MVP Sidney Crosby on the doorstep, and the Penguins knew this would not be an easy game.
What's Next for the Golden Knights?
Vegas (36-15-4) has three home games this week, part of a seven-game home stand at T-Mobile Arena that began on Sunday against the Flyers. All three games are winnable, and they are evenly spaced out in terms of rest and recovery. That bodes well for the Golden Knights.
First up are the Chicago Blackhawks (24-23-8) on Tuesday, and while the Blackhawks have won three Cups this decade, they're currently in last place among Central Division teams—all but out of the postseason chase at this point. After that, it's the Edmonton Oilers (23-27-4) coming to town on Thursday. The Oilers, too, have been a disappointment to their own fans this year, and Edmonton is far from a playoff spot right now. Finally, on Saturday, the Golden Knights host the Montréal Canadiens (22-26-7). A postseason squad last year, the Habs are not in the chase this year at all.
Vegas has a great chance to win all three of these games, although it might behoove the team to give Fleury a bit of a rest at some point during the week. The 33-year-old net minder is closing in on 400 career victories, but he may be a bit fatigued right now. Fleury's last six starts have produced a mediocre 2.98 goals-against average and a subpar .898 save percentage.
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