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Vegas setting a new standard for expansion franchises

The Vegas Golden Knights have put together a historic first season so far and continue to impress game after game. The Golden Knights have taken the bar set by previous expansion franchises and raised it to an unimaginable level. Following the team’s 34th win of the season on Thursday night, let’s reflect on their historic season thus far.

 

A Hot Start

Vegas came out of the gate ready to play. They started out winning their first three games and eight of their first nine. This was easily the best start for an expansion franchise in the history of the NHL. The team went to overtime in three of their first seven games, and came out the winner in all three. They showed early that they weren’t a team to be taken lightly just because they were new to the league.

 

Goaltending Depth

The Golden Knights have been forced to start four different goaltenders this season. During the first quarter of the season there was a stretch of games where the team was plagued by multiple goalie injuries. Marc-Andre Fleury went down after just four games and Malcom Subban got the starting nod in his place. Even without their starting goalie, Vegas didn’t miss a beat and kept the wins coming. Fleury and Subban have accumulated incredible stats this season when healthy. Fleury owns a 14-4-2 record with an incredible 1.79 goals-against-average (GAA) and a .942 save percentage. Subban has earned a sparkling 11-3-1 record this season when between the pipes.

 

Expansion
Starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury
(Photo from AP Photo/LM Otero)

Eventually Subban would go down with an injury and third-stringer Oscar Dansk was asked to carry the load. Again the Golden Knights carried on seemingly unfazed as they rolled to three wins in four of his games played. Dansk owns great numbers in his limited action, a 3-0 record with a 1.78 GAA and .946 save percentage.

 

As if it couldn’t get worse, Dansk would also fall victim to an injury. Fourth-stringer Maxime Lagace was the next man up between the pipes. While his numbers aren’t as stellar as the three other netminders, he helped the team to a 6-6-1 record during his play. That’s 13 out of a possible 26 points that the team earned with him in net. His play helped keep the team afloat as their goaltending depth wore thin, there’s not much more you can ask from a fourth-string goalie.

Reliable Goalscoring

The Golden Knights are a team made up mainly of players that weren’t retained by the other 30 NHL teams. While you’d expect these players to produce subpar numbers, that hasn’t been the case. Vegas has three 20+ goal scorers and another two close to that milestone. Plus, they have three skaters with over 40 points and another three above the 30 point mark.

Expansion
Golden Knights leading scorer Jonathan Marchessault
(Photo from sportingnews.com)

Jonathan Marchessault has produced 18 goals and another 30 assists to lead the team with 48 points. He’s averaging exactly a point per game as he’s played in 48 of the team’s 51 games. Marchessault was a breakout player for the Florida Panthers a season ago, but was shockingly not protected after the season. Vegas wasted no time and nabbed him during the expansion draft.

Marchessault has made sure to make the Panthers pay for not protecting him. Vegas doesn’t plan on making the same mistake, they’ve since locked him up long-term with a 6-year $30 million deal.

David Perron and William Karlsson round out the top three in points for Vegas. Perron with 46 points and Karlsson with 44. Karlsson, selected from the Columbus Blue Jackets in the expansion draft, leads the team in goals with 27. That number puts him tied for third in the league in that stat and only five goals behind the league-leader, Alex Ovechkin. Perron holds the team lead in assists with 33, only two short of his season-best from back in 2008-2009, but he still has 31 games to play.

The Record

It only took 50 games for the Golden Knights to set a new record for most wins in an inaugural season by an expansion franchise. By downing the Winnipeg Jets in overtime on Thursday night, Vegas set the new record at 34 wins, breaking tie with the 1993 Florida Panthers. The craziest part, is that the Golden Knights still have another 32 games left on the schedule following Thursday night’s win over the Jets. Given how well they’ve played this season, it’s not crazy to imagine that they push the record to somewhere between 50-55 games.

Current Standings

With 31 games left the Golden Knights sit atop the Western Conference standings with 72 points. They only trail the Tampa Bay Lightning by one point for the league lead and own a 2-0 head-to-head record against them this season.

Not only do they lead the West in points, but they also lead the West in goals for (173). They’re tied for second in the league with the New York Islanders (173) and only trail the Tampa Bay Lightning (183).

It’s beginning to look like the Vegas Golden Knights will be the first expansion team in the last 26 years to secure a postseason berth.

 

A New Expansion Standard?

However long it takes for the next NHL expansion franchise to come to fruition, they better start preparing now. They’ll be heavily scrutinized and compared to the incredible season the Golden Knights have put together. Most wouldn’t expect the first season of an expansion franchise to do this well, but Vegas has raised the bar very high. There’s no longer a free-pass for a subpar first season, competing for a playoff spot could be the new expectation set by the greatest NHL expansion franchise of all time.

 

Featured picture courtesy of nhl.com/goldenknights

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