BROOKLYN — It’s almost November and the Vegas Golden Knights have one of the best records in the NHL. That’s definitely a sentence you didn’t expect to read after June’s expansion draft, but here we are. An 8-1-0 record and plus-15 goal differential has been powered by six wins in seven home games.
After taking care of business at T-Mobile Arena, the Golden Knights now face their first big test of the season. Eight of their next nine games will be on the road, starting with Monday night’s tilt against the New York Islanders at Barclays Center. Head coach Gerard Gallant is emphasizing the old cliche “one game at a time,” and his players are on the same wavelength.
“Make sure you focus on the game ahead of you and not the whole road trip,” said Vegas forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare after Monday’s morning skate. “There’s no point of thinking of a game you’re not going to play anyway. That’s the biggest chance you have to burn yourself on the game that you have in-hand. Just make sure that you focus. For us, it’s the Islanders tonight. Just focus on that and nothing else.”
The Golden Knights’ success has been one of the feel-good stories in the NHL this season. While their league-high PDO (106) and possession numbers (46 percent Corsi), via Corsica, say they’ll come back down to earth eventually, their start is still a remarkable feat.
Hitting the road for a few weeks now allows players for some bonding time. Dinner Sunday night in New York City was a good start as the “getting to know you” process continues. (Gallant joked that he knows all of his players’ names now.) The majority of players in that dressing room had their career paths unexpectedly altered over the summer and it was up to them to immediately develop chemistry.
“The fact that we all come from different organizations and different teams, all of us had to make an effort to get to know the guy that was next to you,” Bellemare said. “When you come to a team, you have to [make] the effort to introduce yourself to everybody. In this team we all had to do the same job. We all had to try to learn [about] the next guy and his family and everything. I think we can keep it that way and because of that there is less room for cheating or trying to do it your way. It has to be the team way because this is the only way we can survive.”
The Golden Knights players also shared another thing in common: the chips on their shoulders. A new franchise. A lot of preseason predictions placing them with high draft lottery chances. Add it to the pile of internal motivations.
“Not one of us were protected [in expansion draft] so it was kind of a feeling like ‘Alright, we’re in this together, let’s make sure we show everybody else that they made a mistake,’” Bellemare said.
No matter how the rest of their first NHL season goes, the Golden Knights’ opening month success has been vital on two fronts. First, they’re creating more hockey fans in Vegas and converting previous casuals to die-hard status now. Their winning ways has also provided reasons to smile after the mass shooting earlier this month. The aftermath of that tragic day showed just how much of an impact they’re already making in the community.
“It’s still early in the season, but with what happened on October 1, it helped us get an identity right from the start,” Bellemare said. “We’re doing this not for each other. We’re doing this for the town and that’s the most important part.”