One of the concerns about professional sports teams in Las Vegas—just the 40th-biggest television market in the United States—is that home games would be less than friendly, due to out-of-town fans coming in for the action. The Vegas Golden Knights and their play at T-Mobile Arena is proving that theory most incorrect, as the team is 13-2-1 on home ice this season, a record that is fueling the team's unprecedented success as an expansion team.
The Golden Knights have also been solid enough on the road, with an 8-7-1 record away from Sin City, to be firmly in the postseason hunt with 32 games gone in the season and 50 left to play. Their 21-9-2 record now has them holding down first place in the Pacific Division, tied with the Los Angeles Kings but with two games in hand. The 44 points Vegas has earned puts the club in third overall among Western Conference teams.
What Happened Last Week?
The team played three games last week, all at T-Mobile Arena, and skated away with five points for the effort (2-0-1). Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury returned last Tuesday to face the Carolina Hurricanes, and even though the Golden Knights lost in an overtime shootout, it was great to see the team get its No. 1 goalie back after he missed two months with a concussion.
Vegas earned a huge win on Thursday night, in terms of confidence, when it beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, 2-1. Fleury won three Stanley Cups with the Pens before they let him loose in the expansion draft, so he was on his best level against his old team, making 24 saves. Skaters James Neal, David Perron and Deryk Engelland also spent time in the Pittsburgh organization, so it was a sweet victory over the two-time defending champions on several levels.
The Golden Knights wrapped up with the week with a 5-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on Sunday evening. The home team broke open a tie game in the third period with three goals on their way to a well-deserved two points. Vegas actually scored two empty-net goals in the final minutes to make the final margin look easier than it was on the actual ice. Backup goalie Malcolm Subban earned the win while Fleury took the night off, once again showing just how much quality depth the Golden Knights have in net.
1. G Marc-Andre Fleury: His return from injury cannot be understated. He's the clear top option in the crease for this team, and he was pretty good in making 59 saves in two starts after two months of inactivity. Forget the shootout loss—those things are coin flips most of the time, anyway. The Golden Knights know they can beat any team in the league with Fleury in net.
2. LW James Neal: Like Fleury, he got to stick it to an old team this week. Neal scored just 1:41 into the game on Thursday against the Penguins, setting the tone for the rest of the match. He finished plus-two for the game as well, and then Neal added an empty-net goal against the Panthers on Sunday, too. Overall this season, the 30-year-old veteran has 16 goals this season, and he is on pace to set a career-high mark in the category. He scored 40 goals in the 2011-12 season for the Penguins on his way to making his only All-Star team.
3. G Malcolm Subban: He makes this list, because after giving up two early goals to Florida, he hunkered down and let his skaters take control of the game with five unanswered goals. Also, his presence and quality performance gave Fleury a night off in preparation for Tuesday's showdown with the best team in the league—and Saturday's game against perhaps the second-best team in the NHL. His team-first attitude also cannot be understated.
Highlight of the Week
Down 2-0 in the first period to the Panthers, the Golden Knights needed a spark—and they got one from defenseman Nate Schmidt. It was only his second goal of the season, but this shot makes you wonder why he doesn't shoot more often. His 13 assists are obviously invaluable to the team as it is, but perhaps Schmidt should open up his game a bit more if this is what his stick is capable of doing on a regular basis. He has just eight career goals in 200 regular-season games, but Schmidt looks ready to take some more shots.
What's Next for the Golden Knights?
Vegas has just two games this week, which is nice with the holidays approaching. But they are huge games: Tuesday, the Golden Knights host the Tampa Bay Lightning (24-6-2), the team with the best record in the NHL and currently on a seven-game winning streak. Then, on Saturday, it's the Washington Capitals (21-12-1) coming to town, the team that has finished the last two regular seasons with the best record in the NHL. It doesn't get any better than this at T-Mobile Arena, so get your tickets now while you still can!
For tickets and more coverage on the Golden Knights, keep it here on AXS.com.