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Vegas’ start is even more impressive than it seems

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As the NHL’s season heads into its second half the Vegas Golden Knights remain the league’s most improbable success story.

Their 2-1 loss in St. Louis on Thursday night snapped what had been an eight-game winning streak that had helped propel them to the second best record in the NHL and the top spot in the Western Conference. For a team that didn’t even exist at this time a year ago and was pieced together in an expansion draft their current record is nothing short of unbelievable.

Through their first 39 games they have already won more games than Minnesota, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Atlanta and San Jose all won in their debut seasons, and they are just one win away from matching what Columbus and Nashville did in their first seasons.

Even if we take into account that the expansion draft rules this time around gave them more talent than those previous expansion teams, it is still a stunning start because even teams that have been established and building for years don’t typically win this many games through the first half of the season.

Since the NHL introduced the three-point game at the start of the 2005-06 season there have only been 19 teams that have recorded at least 56 points through their first 39 games.

That includes this season’s Golden Knights and Tampa Bay Lightning.

What’s so fascinating about this isn’t just the fact that Vegas is off to one of the best starts of any NHL team over the past 13 years, it’s how well teams that start the way they do end up doing the rest of the season. They not only make the playoffs, they tend to do very, very well once they get there.

Just consider…

  • All 17 of the previous teams made the playoffs.
  • Five of them (the 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings, 2008-09 San Jose Sharks, 2010-11 Vancouver Canucks, 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks, 2015-16 Washington Capitals) won the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s top regular season team.
  • Five of them (2016-17 Pittsburgh Penguins, 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks, 2010-11 Vancouver Canucks 2008-09 Detroit Red Wings, and 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings) ended up reaching the Stanley Cup Final.
  • Three of them (2016-17 Penguins, 2012-13 Blackhawks, and 2007-08 Red Wings) actually won the Stanley Cup
  • Another three (2013-14 Chicago Blackhawks, 2012-13 Pittsburgh Penguins, and 2011-12 New York Rangers) ended up reaching the Conference Final.
  • Three other teams (the 2015-16 Washington Capitals, 2015-16 Dallas Stars, the 2005-06 Ottawa Senators) made it to the second round. Only six of the teams failed to get out of the first round.

Impressive company.

What’s even more impressive is that as the season has gone the Golden Knights have not only continued to win, but they’ve actually seemed to keep getting better as the season has gone on.

While their early season success was largely percentage driven (specifically when it comes to their goaltending) they have steadily become a better possession team and are currently 15th in the league with a 50.7 percent Corsi, putting them directly between the Nashville Predators and Los Angeles Kings. Their PDO (even-strength save percentage plus shooting percentage) is 100.7, right around where it should be, indicating they’re not really benefitting from some crazy or unsustainable “luck.”

They are just … good.

But we’re about to find out exactly how good they are. Through the first half Vegas has been an absolutely dominant team at home, posting a 17-2-1 record. That still leaves a pretty respectable 10-8-1 record on the road. Now Vegas has to play 11 of its next 15 games on the road during a stretch features some pretty daunting matchups including games at Chicago, Nashville, Tampa Bay, Winnipeg, Washington, Pittsburgh, and San Jose.

It remains to be seen where the Golden Knights go in the second half, but they have absolutely given themselves quite a cushion in the standings and have at least put themselves in a position to get in the playoffs. If recent history is any indication they might even have a chance to make some noise once they get there.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Spezza bounces back after healthy scratch; another injury for Predators

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Player Of The Night: Jason Spezza, Dallas Stars

On Monday night the Dallas Star made veteran forward Jason Spezza a healthy scratch as he was mired in a lengthy goal-scoring drought. The Stars wanted to see more from him, and they knew he could provide more.

When he stepped back into the lineup on Tuesday night against the Detroit Red Wings he did exactly that by scoring a pair of goals in the Stars’ 4-2 win.

Even though Spezza had been struggling to put points on the board he was still doing an excellent job when it came to driving possession and generating shots, as well as the fact the team was outscoring its opponents when he was on the ice. His ice-time has been cut significantly this season, but he was doing enough to suggest that it was only a matter of time until he got back into the goal column.

He snapped out of it in a big way on Tuesday.

Another big injury for Nashville

The Nashville Predators are already playing without two of their top forwards with Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson sidelined.

They lost another one on Tuesday night in their 1-0 win over the Vegas Golden Knights when Ryan Johanson had to leave the game after taking a high hit from William Carrier.

Johanson left the game and did not return. There was no penalty called on the play.

Predators coach Peter Laviolette had no update on Johansen after the game and said they were given an explanation that it was a clean hit.

The Predators ended up winning the game 1-0 thanks to a goal from Kevin Fiala and 43 saves from Jusse Saros.

Highlight Of The Night

Not much in the way of highlight reel plays tonight, but here is a big goal from Vince Dunn to give the St. Louis Blues a 2-1 overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Factoid Of The Night

A big milestone for New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist as he picks up his 20th win of the season.

Scores

New Jersey Devils 4, New York Islanders 1

New York Rangers 5, Philadelphia Flyers 1

Dallas Stars 4, Detroit Red Wings 2

St. Louis Blues 2, Toronto Maple Leafs 1

Nashville Predators 1, Vegas Golden Knights 0

San Jose Sharks 3, Arizona Coyotes 2

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Report: Blackhawks concerned Crawford could miss remainder of season

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Here is some less than encouraging news for the Chicago Blackhawks.

According to a report from Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun Times on Tuesday night, there is some growing concern within the Blackhawks organization that starting goaltender Corey Crawford could miss the remainder of the season due to experiencing vertigo-like symptoms for the second time in his career.

Crawford has been sidelined since before Christmas due to an upper-body injury, but the team has been quiet on specifics other than to say publicly that they expect him to return this season.

Over the past few years Crawford has become one of the NHL’s top goalies and when he has been on the ice this season has been absolutely stellar for the Blackhawks. Given the current state of their defense and the rate that they give up shots he has become one of the team’s most important players and the one that seems to drive their success more than any other.

[Related: Corey Crawford has become the Blackhawks’ most important player]

In his absence the team has leaned on Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass. Both have played about as well as could have been expected, but they aren’t Crawford and there is a noticeable drop in play at the position when he is not in there.

In 26 games this season Crawford is 16-9-2 with a .929 save percentage.

As of Tuesday night the Blackhawks are on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture, sitting three points back of the Minnesota Wild. They also have the San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche sitting between them.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Rick Nash snaps out of slump, powers Rangers to huge win

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The New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers are two of the teams in the middle of the free-for-all that is the Eastern Conference playoff race that had five teams separated by just three points heading into Tuesday night.

Both teams had been rolling in opposite directions over the past week with the Flyers having won four in a row and five of their past six, while the Rangers were riding a three-game losing skid and had lost four out of five.

Their past two losses coming out of the bye week were especially ugly, losing to the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins (two other teams they are competing with) by a combined score of 12-4.

Both the Rangers’ and Flyers’ streaks came to an end in their game on Tuesday with the Rangers picking up a huge 5-1 win.

Rick Nash was the big star for the Rangers on Tuesday with a pair of goals, including a breakaway goal in the first period to tie the game at one after the Rangers gave up an early goal. It was a big performance for Nash because he had been mired in a brutal slump that had seen him go 12 consecutive games without a goal. He also had just one assist during that stretch. That slump has contributed to a down year offensively that has him on track for one of the least productive seasons of his career.

But he came through in a big way on Tuesday to help give the Rangers two huge points and move them three points ahead of the Flyers. The Flyers still have one game in hand while the two teams will still play three more games the rest of the season.

The Rangers’ win on Tuesday, combined with the Islanders’ 4-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils, moves the Rangers back into the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference for the time being.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Predators place forward Viktor Arvidsson on injured reserve

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Nashville Predators have placed forward Viktor Arvidsson on injured reserve with a lower-body injury and recalled forward Frederick Gaudreau from the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals.

The Predators made the move Tuesday afternoon.

Arvidsson was helped off the ice Monday during practice, and The Tennessean reports he tested himself during Tuesday morning’s skate.

The forward ranks third on the Predators with 13 goals and fourth with 27 points. The Predators already have Filip Forsberg on injured reserve with an upper-body injury.

Gaudreau has played 18 games with the Predators with three assists. He had 14 points in 21 games with the Admirals this season.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey