It’s funny. The Vegas Golden Knights were expected to be a joke with minimal win totals and not a chance at any success. Of course, at 2-0 only two games in, the Golden Knights are no lock to even see the light of a 35-win season in their inaugural campaign. But, to say that they aren’t a good team may be an understatement.
As a resident of Pittsburgh, I will only get to see them play when they’re on national television. I took full advantage of seeing their first game on October 5th.
As previously mentioned, being from Pittsburgh, I was always a Marc-Andre Fleury fan. Seeing Fleury in a uniform other than the Penguins is weird. But now, Fleury gets to be the face of a franchise, something he absolutely deserves. He has rewarded Vegas’ faith in him by going 2-0 with a 0.98 goals against average and .973 save percentage. These numbers earned “The Flower” the NHL’s Second Star of the Week.
Seeing him shut down shot after shot reminded me of his times in Pittsburgh where, when he was on, it seemed like nothing could get by him. He even stopped 20 second period shots against the Stars in the inaugural game of the season. The only goal he allowed was on a redirect a mere seven feet from the crease.
Obviously, Fleury’s numbers will fade as no goalie can come close to putting up those numbers in one season. There is a realistic chance, however, that with the lackluster defense the Golden Knights possess, that his numbers could be high.
It sounds very unconventional, but Fleury has actually thrived in his career when he faces a high volume of shots in a game. He is a hot and cold goalie that will steal games for Vegas. But he can’t carry the team alone.
He’s had some help from left winger James Neal in the early going.
Neal, another former Penguin, has scored three of the franchise’s first four goals. Neal scored the game tying goal in the opening game and then scored the game winner later on a sick diving goal. In the second game, he had the overtime winner for Vegas to give them a 2-0 record by beating Arizona. No one saw this coming.
A lot of it could have to do with the nostalgia of playing on a brand new expansion franchise. Maybe Vegas is better than we gave them credit for.
They just traded back up Calvin Pickard to the Toronto Maple Leafs after plucking Malcolm Subban off of waivers from Boston. They’ve got a young project behind Fleury and could have him learn from one of the game’s better netminders. They’ve got guys like David Perron and Jonathan Marchessault who have proven they can be prolific scorers in the right situation.
Head coach Gerrard Gallant had success previously with the Florida Panthers and can bring a winning culture to Vegas. General manager George McPhee has done nothing but push the right buttons in acquiring assets from teams to assure they took certain players. Vegas won’t be a last place team and it’s very likely they will regress to the mean rather than being a playoff team in year one.
This is the NHL and stranger things have happened. This is a story to keep your eyes on. If you don’t have a horse in the race but are a hockey fan in general, Vegas could be a team you want to get on board with.