Can any other NHL team top Golden Knights’ near-perfect homestand?

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The remarkable thing about the Vegas Golden Knights is that their achievements transcend “great for an expansion team.”

After going 8-1-0 after a 7-0 throttling of the Colorado Avalanche, they’re absolutely in the mix as one of the best teams in the NHL so far in this young 2017-18 season. (For more on their latest win, check out this post.)

There’s even a highly specific thing they might have mastered better than any team will this season: a near-perfect, long homestand. The Golden Knights won six of seven games on a homestand that just completed, passing this test with flying colors.

As with many Cinderella stories in sports, there is an opportunity for that “record scratch” moment coming soon: the Golden Knights play six in a row and eight of their next nine games on the road. The standings might balance themselves out as their schedule does.

This post asks a different question, though: can any other team match or exceed what the Golden Knights accomplished? There are a lot of six-game homestands out there, and long runs, but not a ton of home runs of seven-or-more. For the sake of brevity, this little thought experiment will keep things very specific: these runs must include at least seven home games in a row.

Let’s take a look at the handful of teams who have a chance, and allow this to be a reminder of just how special this accomplishment is for the Golden Knights. (If this post misses any home runs that exceed seven games and haven’t happened yet, drop a line or a comment.)

Calgary Flames: In falling 2-1 to the Dallas Stars on Friday, the Flames began a seven-game homestand on a sour note.

They’ll need to win six in a row, then, to match what Vegas just did. One thing in their favor: no back-to-back sets during this run of home cooking.

Winnipeg Jets: If my eyes don’t deceive me, the Jets boast the longest homestand of this season (or at least the longest one that remains on the schedule). From Jan. 30 – Feb. 20, the Jets play a whopping 10 straight games at home.

It’s amusing to compare two strong but polar opposite home-ice advantages: Vegas vs. Winnipeg in the bitterest months of winter.

Arizona Coyotes: From Feb. 15 through March 3, the Coyotes will enjoy a seven-game run at home. They also play nine of 10 in Arizona stretching back to Feb. 10.

The undeniable question hanging over all of that is: will they be in any real position to take advantage of that stretch, or will they be more interested in the trade deadline around that time?

Carolina Hurricanes: Here’s hoping that locals start to notice something rather interesting forming with the Hurricanes by early 2018 at the latest.

Starting on Jan. 30, the Hurricanes play eight straight (and 11 of 12) at home. For all we know, this could be the stretch that pushes them from middle-of-the-pack to the exciting, rising club many picture in their heads when they note the slew of talented, young players on that roster.

Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning have an eight-game homestand from March 3-20, also playing 10 of 11 in Tampa Bay from Feb. 26 – March 20. If the Bolts are playing anywhere near as well then as they are now, they might just provide themselves a big enough cushion to contemplate resting stars like Steven Stamkos a bit in late March or early April.

***

There are plenty of teams that play a staggering majority of their games at home during certain stretches, but only a few qualify for the specific task of trying to top what Vegas just accomplished.

You can bet that PHT will keep an eye on the peaks and valleys that all 31 NHL teams face in their respective schedules. Sometimes a run to the playoffs could come down to harvesting these opportunities or wasting them amid slumps.

The Golden Knights have a long way to go before the playoffs become a truly realistic goal, but they’ve already accomplished a lot, including possibly enjoying the most successful homestand of any NHL team in 2017-18.

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.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

“They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

“I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

“We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

COMINGS AND GOINGS

The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

MORE POWER

The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

“It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

“Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

UP FRONT

With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

ON THE SLATE

This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.