Tonight is the night that National Hockey League and sports fans alike have been waiting for over the past 16 months since the league announced Las Vegas as the home of its newest expansion team. The Vegas Golden Knights take the ice in Dallas at 5:30 pm PT to take on the Stars in their first regular-season game in the NHL.
The NHL Network will carry the game live, and Golden Knights home games at T-Mobile Arena—starting on Tuesday night against the Arizona Coyotes—are sure to be hot tickets on the Las Vegas Strip. If you want to see the team play in Sin City this season, plan ahead. For tickets and coverage all season on the Vegas team, keep it right here on AXS.com.
We've broken down the team and its roster in every way possible in preparation for this debut, and as tonight's puck drop approaches, we're going to give our best predictions for the upcoming season, too. Expansion teams, in any sport, often have a rough start in their first few seasons, although some teams have broken through quickly to reach the postseason.
Here are ten predictions for the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017-18. We'll check back in April to see how we did.
1. The average number of wins for the last four NHL expansion teams is 24, and the Golden Knights will surpass that mark: In an 82-game season, playoff teams generally win about 40 games, with a handful of overtime losses thrown in there. Due to the Vegas roster strengths and weakness, we see the team winning 30 games this season. It would be a very impressive achievement for Head Coach Gerard Gallant and Co. to surpass 30 wins.
2. The Golden Knights will not finish last in the Pacific Division: Vegas received a good slot in the NHL division alignment, as there were some very bad teams in the Pacific last season. Both the Arizona Coyotes and the Vancouver Canucks finished with 30 wins last season, meaning the Golden Knights have low-hanging fruit to pluck. The Canucks should be better in 2017-18, but we're not so sure about the Coyotes. We will find out on Tuesday night, perhaps, at the VGK home opener.
3. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury will discover a fountain of youth: He had a rough regular season with the Pittsburgh Penguins last year, but Fleury posted solid numbers in the postseason as the Pens won the Stanley Cup again. He won't have the same talent around him in Vegas, but Fleury is rejuvenated with the change of scenery. He will match his 2017 postseason marks (.924 save percentage, 2.56 goals-against average) over the full season in Vegas this year.
4. Backup goalie Calvin Pickard will post a winning record: He actually led the NHL in losses last year with a dreadful Colorado team (just 22 wins for the Avalanche in 2016-17), but Pickard will return to his prior form and win more games than he loses this season. He's an able backup with a lot of upside, and he should help Fleury stay fresh by starting 25-30 games this season. We're guessing he will win 15 of those starts.
5. The Golden Knights will win the opener tonight in Dallas: The team is going to be pumped. The Stars underwhelmed last season with just 34 wins, and while Dallas should be a better team, the Vegas team will take everyone by surprise tonight. The Golden Knights will have jump, so to speak, and they'll upset the Stars on the road for the first win in franchise history.
6. Vegas also will win its home opener on Tuesday: We're thinking after a huge win tonight, the Golden Knights will experience a big of fatigue on Saturday night in Phoenix against the Coyotes. After all, you always crash hard after a high high. Arizona will win on Saturday, but Vegas will regain its legs and stamina in time for Tuesday's big game at T-Mobile Arena to bury the Coyotes big time.
7. The first Golden Knights home stand will be a winning one: Starting on Tuesday night, the Vegas organization has seven straight home games coming up. What a great way to get Sin City involved with the team early and often. In order, it's Arizona, Detroit, Boston, Buffalo, St. Louis, Chicago and Colorado coming to visit the Golden Knights. The home team will win a majority of those seven games, although it probably won't be beating the Blues on October 21 or the Blackhawks on October 24.
8. Center Vadim Shipachyov will lead the team in scoring: We didn't profile him in the preseason, since Shipachyov has never played in the NHL before now. He has, however, been a star in the Kontinental Hockey League. Shipachyov can score, and he's had success on the international/world stage, too, posting 48 points in 39 games for Team Russia in various global competitions. He should be exciting to watch in Vegas this season.
9. Defenseman Deryk Engelland will lead the team in penalty minutes: Old-time hockey fans still love the penalties, and we are thinking a lot of long-time NHL fans will flock to Vegas to see their favorite teams take on the Golden Knights. They will learn to hate Engelland for his feisty play on their scoring forwards—and that will only help Vegas earn respect league-wide. He's also a year-round Vegas resident who played for the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL. He's going to be loved by Sin City hockey fans.
10. Half these predictions will be wrong: We don't know which ones, of course, but it's just the nature of the beast. Hockey is a crazy-fun sport, and if you've never seen the game live in person, you're missing out. The players have mad skills on skates and with the stick, and it is perhaps the most challenging of all North American professional sports, due to its short bursts of intensity unlike any other game. Enjoy the ride, Vegas fans!