Could the Golden Knights make a playoff appearance this season?
Can the Vegas Golden Knights be a playoff contender this season? They’re off to a terrific start, winning three of their first four games. This would make anyone think, of course, they’re a contender, they’re in first place in the Pacific division! A few deciding factors went into the Golden Knights having this record, let’s look at each of them.
Schedule – VGK started off their franchise in Dallas, winning 2-1 with a third-period comeback. Certainly, no one expected this, and most expected the high-flying Dallas offense to trounce the Knights in their first ever NHL game. Despite being outshot 46-30, Vegas pulled this one off with a James Neal goal in the final three minutes of regulation. The next two games were against the Arizona Coyotes, who, while currently showing promise in their young roster and many top prospects, have not finished higher than 9th in the western conference since the 2011-2012 season. The first game was no easy task, as the Knights trailed 1-0 the entire game only to tie it with 1:12 left in regulation. Vegas then scored in overtime to obtain their second win of the season. The next matchup was much less stressful, as VGK walked all over the Coyotes, dismantling them by a score of 5-2. Then, Friday night in Vegas, the Detroit Red Wings became the first team in the history of the NHL to defeat the Vegas Golden Knights by a score of 6-3.
Marc-Andre Fleury – As previously mentioned, the Golden Knights won their first game of the season against Dallas despite being outshot 46-30. Fleury made an astounding 45 saves for the win. Vegas outshot the Coyotes in the following game 42-28, with Fleury making 27 saves to keep the team in it while they attempted to solve Antti Raanta. The third game against Arizona, Vegas was outshot again 33-28, but Fleury saved 31 while his offense got Arizona goaltender Antti Raanta pulled after allowing 3 goals on 5 shots in just 6 minutes and 15 seconds. Finally, facing Detroit on Friday, Fleury had a less-than-stellar evening allowing 6 goals on 27 shots for a .778 save percentage on the night, resulting in a 6-3 loss.
James Neal – Neal has done just about all the goal scoring for the Vegas Golden Knights. With 6 goals in 4 games, only Alexander Ovechkin has potted more than Neal thus far. In the first win against Dallas, he registered both tallies for the team. In the overtime win against Arizona, he scored the OT winner. In the 5-2 win against Arizona, Neal had 2 of the 5 goals to lead his team once again to victory. He did register one more goal Friday night against Detroit in the loss, but it was not enough as the Red Wings scored 6 of their own.
Anyone who has followed the NHL in recent years knows that the Arizona Coyotes are just not quite there yet. They’ve got one of the best offensive skating defensemen in the league in Oliver Ekman-Larsson and a group of young developing forwards that look like they’ll be a powerhouse in the future in Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Clayton Keller, Christian Dvorak, Christian Fischer, Dylan Strome, and Lawson Crouse.
However, the team is just not ready to be a contender in this league. Which still makes NHL teams and fans alike, see them as an easy win on their calendar. More than likely, James Neal will not continue his pace of scoring 1.5 goals per game, and Marc-Andre Fleury will not regularly be making 45 saves a night, especially for 82 games straight. In conclusion, no the Vegas Golden Knights are not a playoff contender, and will most likely be at the bottom of the Pacific division (or just ahead of the Coyotes) by season’s end. As soon as playoff-contending teams are on Vegas’ schedule, they will have some rough nights. (This includes the Dallas Stars, who dominated their matchup, but could not solve Fleury.) Vegas has the Boston Bruins, St Louis Blues, and Chicago Blackhawks coming up on their schedule, and the result of those games will tell the real tale of this Vegas Golden Knights team.