Erik Haula

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Golden Knights can’t stop, won’t stop

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There may not be a more intriguing story in the NHL this year than what is going on in Sin City.

Defying all the odds, the Vegas Golden Knights — a team comprised of spare parts that general manager George McPhee picked out of a discard bin this past summer — sit on top of the Pacific Division at Thanksgiving after a 4-2 win against the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday.

The league-wide off day due to the holiday should give you enough time to come to the realization that yes, indeed, your eyes are not deceiving you.

Instead, the NHL has a brand new team that continues to re-write hockey history.

The Golden Knights matched an NHL record for most wins by a team through the first 20 games of its inaugural season on Wednesday, moving to 13-6-1 on the year.

They became the first expansion team to start a season 3-0-0 and first to win their first six of seven back in October. On Nov. 4, they tied a league record for shortest number of games played to achieve nine wins an inaugural season and continue to do things no other expansion team has done.

How a team full of players not good enough to be protected prior to the expansion draft is doing so well is anyone’s guess.

Chip on their collective shoulders? Perhaps. A little Las Vegas magic? Quite possible.

What is certain is that the Golden Knights have little trouble scoring. And scoring helps with winning.

James Neal, a former 40-goal man, leads the way with 11 goals. Only Filip Forsberg on the Nashville Predators, Neal’s former team, has as many. William Karlsson is second with 10. No one on his former team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, has reached double digits yet.

David Perron, Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault and Erik Haula aren’t far behind with six goals apiece, and Vegas is eighth in expected goals for percentage.

The math adds up to show the Golden Knights tied for fourth in goals for with 72. They’re also in the top third when it comes to least goals against, a remarkable feat given that they’ve had to dig deep — really deep — into their stable of goaltenders thanks to injury.

Furthermore, If the playoffs were determined by possession metrics and began tomorrow, the Golden Knights would be one of the 16 headed to the promised land.

Maybe Vegas just likes to win. And really, what do they have to lose?


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Golden Knights make more history with ninth win

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The NHL hasn’t seen a new team get off to a hot start like the one the Vegas Golden Knights are experiencing in almost a century. Literally.

Vegas’ accomplishment becomes even more interesting when you consider that they’re now at nine wins (after edging the Ottawa Senators in a see-saw 5-4 contest) against established teams. Their historical peers, meanwhile, were facing other fledgling franchises.

Either way, chalk up another special bit of history as the Golden Knights improved to 9-4-0:

This didn’t just mark the first NHL win for goalie Maxime Lagace, either. Injuries have caused quite the odd rotation in the Golden Knights’ net, allowing their group to match a rather obscure rendition of the New York Islanders:

Ah, you gotta love #specificstats.

The most joyous thing about the Golden Knights is that, while they’re still expected to cool off from this unexpected, injury-defying run, the evidence is increasing that they could remain a remarkably competitive team, especially by expansion standards.

Even before this latest victory, Sportsnet’s Andrew Berkshire explained why this team might not be a “complete mirage,” and it all seems to be another feather in the cap of Gerard Gallant, who sure seems like a frontrunner for the Jack Adams so far:

The Golden Knights are top-10 in the NHL in both creating and suppressing high danger chances at even strength, making them an extremely tough team to play against.

There’s another element to this team that’s far less scientific: as I’ve argued before, the advantage of having a ragtag group of players is that they have a lot on the line. This mixture of scorers and defensemen on expiring contracts, unproven goalies (with Marc-Andre Fleury out), and other people with “chips on their shoulders” (like Reilly Smith, who was traded from Florida) make for a hungry group.

Some of their most interesting, high-appetite-types came through against the Senators on Saturday.

Jonathan Marchessault, maybe the Golden Knights player with the most money to gain or lose after his 2016-17 breakthrough, scored a goal and two assists in this one. The 26-year-old has been picking it up lately, generating three multi-point outputs in his last five games. Erik Haula was right there with him, scoring two goals and one assist. Haula’s situation is settled contract-wise, but he still has a lot to prove in the NHL.

David Perron (two assists) and James Neal (one assist) continue to put together strong cases for why they deserve security with their next contracts, whether they’re getting paid by Vegas or a different NHL team.

It wasn’t always easy for Lagace and the Golden Knights this afternoon, especially when the Senators surged back to cut a 5-2 edge to 5-4 in the third period, but they held strong.

While their schedule remains daunting in some ways, there’s also some light at the end of the tunnel. They now only have two more stops remaining on their current six-game road trip. After that, their schedule is more balanced for a while, so we might get another look at how good this team “really” is.

With nine wins in the bank, you certainly can’t dismiss them outright at this point.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Golden Knights waive struggling Jason Garrison

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The Vegas Golden Knights’ roster activity continued on Friday as they waived Jason Garrison, who carries the highest cap hit ($4.6 million) among Golden Knights defensmen, per Cap Friendly. The move allowed them to activate Erik Haula from injured reserve.

This move also follows the most recent demotion of Vadim Shipachyov, who could end up involved in a trade out of Sin City.

Garrison’s been in quite a decline since 2014-15, his first season with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He’s stayed pretty healthy, but his production has dropped from 30 points in ’14-15 to 11, 9 and down to one this season. He’s only suited up for four games after being one of Vegas’ expansion draft picks and averaged 18:53 of ice time per night.

His booming shot could help a power play and given he’s in the final year of his deal, that would make him an attractive pickup for another club (along with his $2.5 million salary), as opposed to Shipachyov, who’s on a two-year deal.

Vegas has an abundance of blue liners in their organization, but it’s clear general manager George McPhee was unable to flip one of this defensive assets hence Friday’s moves. One quote he gave on Thursday referring to Shipachyov’s status could apply to Garrison, 32, in this case.

Via Sin Bin Vegas: “Unfortunately, we have a lot of players here, and we have certain people that have really blossomed and are playing extremely well right now, and they deserve to be in the lineup.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Golden Knights lost more than just first game vs. Red Wings: Fleury goes to IR

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One of this early season’s best stories might have hit a serious snag.

The Vegas Golden Knights recently announced that Marc-Andre Fleury and Jonathan Marchessault have been placed on IR. Goalie Maxime Lagace and forward Alex Tuch were called up from the AHL in their absence.

As this oddly adorable update notes, Erik Haula is also out of action, opening the door for intriguing KHL import Vadim Shipachyov:

This most likely opens the door for an intriguing storyline on Sunday: could we see Malcolm Subban face the Boston Bruins not that long after the team waived him?

That’s kind of fun, but seeing “The Flower” get injured is a tough pill to swallow after the Detroit Red Wings handed them their first-ever loss (6-3 on Friday). Even with that tough game, Fleury’s early Vegas numbers sparkle: 3-1-0 with a strong .925 save percentage.

Place that on top of being an early “face of the franchise” and this injury hurts. This was almost certainly the moment that Fleury got hurt. (Update: Sportsnet shared video of the event; see above this post’s headline.)

(In case you’re wondering, Lagace seems like a pretty marginal 24-year-old netminder, at least judging by a glance at his numbers at lower levels.)

If Subban has a rough Sunday, there might be a least a couple murmurs about the organization letting Calvin Pickard get lost in the shuffle, eventually falling to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a trade that felt like just a small step up from losing him for nothing.

It’s possible that Haula got hurt thanks to this fight with Tomas Tatar:

All things considered, it seems like the Golden Knights lost in more ways than one against the Red Wings on Friday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Golden Knights recall Vadim Shipachyov, who could make NHL debut vs. Bruins

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The Vegas Golden Knights have recalled forward Vadim Shipachyov from the American Hockey League, according to multiple reports.

According to Chris Johnston of Sportsnet, the Golden Knights placed Erik Haula on the injured list in a corresponding move, opening up a roster spot for the 30-year-old Shipachyov, who is on a two-year, $9 million deal with Vegas after lighting it up in the KHL for the past few years.

The talented Russian forward wasn’t on the Golden Knights opening night roster and has missed the first four games of their season, which raised controversy when reports surfaced that Shipachyov and his agent were looking to find a way to get back to the KHL.

General manager George McPhee denied the report, saying Shipachyov wouldn’t report to Chicago.

“This is a roster move and it’s not about performance,” McPhee told NHL.com earlier this week.

The Golden Knights have enjoyed a 3-1 start to their first season in the league, with James Neal continuing his hot streak with another goal, his sixth of the season, on Friday in what turned into a 6-3 Vegas loss to Detroit. The Red Wings entered the third period down a goal, but scored four unanswered for the win.

With a roster assembled through the expansion draft, the Golden Knights are expected to struggle at times offensively this season. The organization’s plan is geared more towards the long term, but in the case of their 2017-18 season, there is going to be a fair amount of intrigue to see what Shipachyov — who scored 26 goals and 76 points in the KHL last season — can do once he gets into the lineup and acclimatized to the NHL level.

In the midst of a seven-game home stand, the Golden Knights host the Boston Bruins on Sunday. Per Steve Carp of the Vegas Review Journal, Shipachyov is expected to make his debut tomorrow.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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