With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the Vegas Golden Knights.
Record: 39-24-8 (86 games), first in the Pacific Division, third in the Western Conference.
Leading Scorer: Max Pacioretty – 66 points – (32 goals, 66 assists)
In-Season Roster Moves
• Traded Chandler Stephenson to Capitals for a 2021 fifth-round pick.
• Acquired Alec Martinez from Kings for second-round picks in 2020, 2021.
• Traded Cody Eakin to Jets for a 2021 conditional fourth-round pick.
• Acquired Nick Cousins from Canadiens for 2021 fourth-round pick.
• As part of a three-team deal, acquired Robin Lehner, traded a 2020 fifth-round pick to Maple Leafs, traded Malcolm Subban, Slava Demin, and a 2020 second-round pick to Blackhawks.
Did the crushing end to 2018-19 affect the Golden Knights’ start to this season? It may have played a role, but the biggest issue was goaltending. Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban could not provide support to a high-powered offense and a team that has been among the best in the possession department.
That weakness ultimately led to Gerard Gallant’s dismissal in January as the team sported a 24-19-6 record. At the time, Vegas had the third-best Corsi in the NHL (54%), were top-10 in 5-on-5 scoring, and had the best expected goals percentage (106.93). But a .985 PDO and a .911 even strength save percentage were anchors on a contending team. It all set up Peter DeBoer, who replaced Gallant after being fired by the Sharks in December, in prime position to help a rebound.
Through Vegas’ 22 games under DeBoer there were slight improvements in those weak areas. Special teams and goaltending were slightly better, but between the pipes remained an issue. Fleury’s ESSV% is his worst in nearly a decade, which is why general manager Kelly McCrimmon went out and acquired Robin Lehner at the trade deadline. The Golden Knights experienced a small sample of what the Swedish netminder can do with only three appearances before the NHL pause. But should we have a resumption of play for this season, Vegas will clearly be a big contender coming out of the Western Conference after strengthening that area.
In spite of their goaltending and special teams, the Golden Knights hummed along to atop the Pacific Division through 71 games. Four players — Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone, Reilly Smith, and Jonathan Marchessault — each topped the 20-goal mark. Shea Theodore is currently fifth among defensemen with 13 goals and early-season addition Chandler Stephenson has found a role in Vegas with 22 points in 41 games.
DeBoer has only had 22 games behind the Golden Knights’, so his impact may not be felt for some time. The goaltending decision will be an interesting one depending on if the NHL resumes with the regular season or goes right to the playoffs. Fleury, who has two more seasons at a $7M cap hit remaining, has been outplayed by Lehner, a pending unrestricted free agent, this season. With Vegas a Cup contender, it should be an easy choice who to ride out the rest of this unique season with.
Highlight of the Season: Nic Petan surely thought he had a goal until Fleury did his thing:
MORE ON THE GOLDEN KNIGHTS:
• Biggest surprises and disappointments of 2019-20
• Golden Knights’ long-term outlook
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.