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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

Vegas’ goaltending situation is starting to get absurd

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Do you have any goaltending experience? Yes. You. You, the person reading this right now.

If you do, the Vegas Golden Knights might be calling you soon as all of their goalies keep suffering all sorts of calamities that are knocking them out of the lineup one by one.

After Maxime Lagace had to leave Tuesday’s 8-2 loss in Edmonton after giving up seven goals and appearing to be injured the team had to turn to 19-year-old Dylan Ferguson to finish the game.

In doing so, Ferguson became the fifth different goalie to appear in a game for the Golden Knights this season.

They have only played 17 games.

Now there remains a chance that he might have to start Thursday’s game in Vancouver, as noted by Sportsnet’s John Shannon on Wednesday.

If you want to include Calvin Pickard, whom the Golden Knights selected in the expansion draft but traded before he ever had a chance to play in a game for the team, they are sort on their sixth goalie of the season.

This, of course, is absurd.

A big part  — perhaps the biggest part — of Vegas’ early season success was the fact they were getting exceptional goaltending. Given that Marc-Andre Fleury was the top player they acquired in the expansion draft and was expected to be one of the initial building blocks of the franchise that was probably the plan all along.

Get a good goalie, give what will almost certainly be an undermanned team at least a chance to win on most nights, then go from there.

For a while, things were going according to plan.

Then Fleury suffered a concussion in his fourth game and has not played since.

From there the team turned to its new backup, Malcolm Subban. After getting absolutely lit up in his only two NHL appearances prior to this season Subban stepped into the lineup and was exceptional until he, too, ended up getting injured with a lower-body injury.

That opened the door for Oscar Dansk, and he too exceeded all expectations until he too ended up getting injured in a loss to the New York Islanders. He has not played since, either.

Between the three of them, Fleury, Subban and Dansk had posted an 8-1-0 record with a combined .934 save percentage before they were all knocked out of the lineup.

At some point when a team — in this case an expansion team — gets this far down its goaltending depth chart it is going to start to become a problem. The Golden Knights are just 2-5-1 with Lagace in net while his .860 save percentage has been by far the worst in the NHL among goalies that have appeared in at least eight games.

With decent goaltending Vegas could probably continue to be an interesting team, especially as a lot of their top forwards continue to score at a pretty respectable rate. There is only so much they can do, however, when the team is literally running out of goalies and turning to their fifth and sixth string goalies.

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.

After leaving Las Vegas, Vadim Shipachyov signs contract in KHL

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ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — Russian forward Vadim Shipachyov signed Saturday with SKA St. Petersburg in the Kontinental Hockey League after quitting a deal with the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights.

Shipachyov returns to the team where he won two KHL championships. He is on a one-year contract which leaves him free to play at the Winter Olympics.

Vegas said Thursday that Shipachyov’s contract was ended after he refused to play for its AHL affiliate. He is officially considered “voluntarily retired” from the NHL.

Shipachyov appeared unhappy with his former team in a statement issued by SKA on Saturday.

“They say one thing to your face and when it comes to hockey, something else,” he said, adding that his NHL experience had been “two months of misunderstandings, smiles and conversations which had nothing to do with reality.”

The center was Vegas’ second-ever signing and he arrived amid hype from his performances in the KHL and for the Russian national team.

Shipachyov scored in his first game for Vegas but that was the only goal of his three-game NHL career.

The Buzzer: Stone lifts Sens in Sweden; Vegas back to winning ways at home

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Player of the Night: Mark Stone, Ottawa Senators

Stone scored twice, including the overtime winner, as the Senators beat the Colorado Avalanche 4-3 in first of two games between the teams during the NHL Global Series in Stockholm.

Highlight of the Night: Robin Lehner clearly did some extra stretching Friday:

MISC:

Roberto Luongo stopped 24 shots, Jonathan Huberdeau handed out three assists and the Florida Panthers got goals from four different players during a 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres, snapping a five-game skid in the process.

• With the win, Luongo moved ahead of Curtis Joseph for fourth place on the NHL career victory list with 455.

Patrick Marleau was the overtime hero and James van Riemsdyk netted two goals as the Toronto Maple Leafs got by the Boston Bruins 3-2. JVR’s second of the night with a minute left in the third period sent the game to the extra period.

• A pair of power play goals and 27 stops from Braden Holtby helped the Washington Capitals dowb the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-1. Holtby is now the second-fastest goaltender in NHL history to reach the 200-victory mark.

Nicklas Backstrom’s first point in eight games was a beauty:

Sidney Crosby is goalless in 10 games.

• A pair of goals from Jordan Staal and 25 saves from Cam Ward helped the Carolina Hurricanes beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-1. Columbus has now dropped four in a row.

John Klingberg scored a goal and added two assists and Ben Bishop stopped all 14 shots he faced as the Dallas Stars blanked the New York Islanders 5-0. The shutout was the 20th of Bishop’s career. Klingberg leads all NHL blue liners with 18 points.

• Doug Weight was not a happy coach after that one:

• The Vegas Golden Knights returned home and went back to their winning ways with a 5-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets. William Karlsson scored twice, James Neal netted his ninth of the year and Maxim Lagace stopped 27 of 29 shots he faced.

Factoid of the Night:

Scores:
Ottawa 4, Colorado 3 (OT)
Carolina 3, Columbus 1
Florida 3, Buffalo 1
Washington 4, Pittsburgh 1
Toronto 3, Boston 2 (OT)
Dallas 5, New York Islanders 0
Vegas 5, Winnipeg 2

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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.

Vadim Shipachyov saga finally ends for Vegas Golden Knights

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The Vadim Shipachyov era in Vegas has officially come to a close and the 30-year-old Russian will forever be known as the first player to retire as a Golden Knight.

As part of an agreement between the Knights, NHL and NHLPA, Shipachyov has voluntarily retired from the NHL. General manager George McPhee said he had a trade in place but the player wanted to go home. In order for the move to be completed, the center needed to pay back all but $86,000 of his $2 million signing bonus.

“Sometimes it just doesn’t work,” McPhee said. “Sometimes the player you see in Europe isn’t the player you see here, and that’s the risk you take when you sign them and you’re hoping that it works out and it doesn’t always work out.”

His salary is now completely off their books and Vegas now has an open spot on their roster.

All signs points to Shipachyov returning to SKA, a powerhouse in the KHL, despite an attempt by his hometown club Severstal to lure him back.

SovSport

Shipachyov signed a two-year, $9 million deal with Vegas in May, but spent his first month of this season shipped back and forth between Sin City and their AHL affiliate in Chicago. He would play only three games with the Golden Knights before seeking a way to return home.

The Shipachyov drama clearly didn’t affect the Golden Knights as they started their inaugural campaign with a 7-3-1 record in October.

“He needed to play,” McPhee said. “Everyone here was playing better than he was. He needed to play and we were willing to have him play in Chicago.”

Stick-tap Sin Bin Vegas for the audio

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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.