NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Vegas Golden Knights and the Nashville Predators at 7 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.
A 5-5-1 record would be exhilarating for most sports teams in their second year of existence, but for the Vegas Golden Knights, it’s an exasperating start.
Part of that is obvious: the Golden Knights took the NHL by storm in their inaugural 2017-18 season, winning the Pacific Division by a mile and making it to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. Raising the bar isn’t the only reason why things have been frustrating for Vegas, however.
As many expected, the Golden Knights’ run of good luck has cooled off, but they haven’t fallen off in quite the way many forecasted.
Instead of being exposed as pretenders, so far, it seems like Vegas has been suffering rotten luck. This isn’t just about the unfortunate injury of newly acquired center Paul Stastny, who could be out months, either.
Nope, instead it’s mainly been cruel, old-fashioned bad puck luck.
Perhaps this is the Golden Knights’ true “welcome to the NHL” experience, then. Many teams have felt Vegas’ pain over the years: showering opponents with a barrage of shots, only to not find the net, see the other goalie vastly outplay yours, or a combination of the two.
You can break down Vegas’ robust underlying numbers in both fancy and simple ways, with a simple conclusion: they’ve performed better than their 5-5-1 record would indicate.
Most simply, the Golden Knights have massively outshot their opponents so far in 2018-19, generating 35.1 shots per game (fourth-best in the NHL) while only surrendering 24.1 shots against per game (second-best in the NHL).
Deeper looks continue to shine a positive light on Vegas’ early play.
Using even-strength stats from Natural Stat Trick, you can see that the Golden Knights are a top team in multiple categories. Here’s a quick snapshot of their impressive work, as part of the top 10 teams sorted by Corsi For Percentage:
|Team||corsi for%||high danger%||shooting%||save%|
The last two categories are key, and hopefully fuel for Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant to keep his foot on the gas. Vegas is pretty much great in the categories they can control: high-danger chances, scoring chances in general, and puck possession.
(Also: The Point Hockey ranks them as tied for fourth-best in generating the most “inner-slot shots” while being the second-best at limiting them, another indication that Vegas is dominating the battle for high-danger opportunities.)
The Golden Knights are almost certain to improve their shooting percentage as the season goes along, and the hope is that Marc-Andre Fleury and their other goalies at least return to a league-average level.
Now, it will be difficult for the Golden Knights to hog the puck on the same level all season long. If nothing else, the pace of play will likely slow during an 82-game season, even for a squad that pushes the pace like Vegas does. It also won’t help to be without Stastny, a center who has been a puck possession wizard basically since people started tracking deeper stats.
Even with those caveats and a disappointing record in mind, the Golden Knights should keep at it, as the numbers indicate that they’re for real.
Of course, just about everyone expected the Golden Knights to run out of bounces last season, so maybe the fix is in against Vegas this time around.