Expansion Vegas Golden Knights
are sitting atop the Pacific Division halfway through the NHL season and with a ridiculous, impossible-to-believe 27-10-2 record.
Coach Gallant was fired by the Florida Panthers just over a year ago. Players came from all over the league. They were castoffs. Third-liners. Fourth-liners. Misfits.
17-2-1 at home the league’s second-highest scoring team. They’ll likely make the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“I’m not going to sit here and say I thought we’d be in first place. Nobody would have believed me,” coach Gerard Gallant said in a phone interview Wednesday. “I really didn’t have expectations.
“I knew we had some good players from the expansion draft. I knew we had good goal tending. And we had a lot of depth and guys who compete and work hard. It’s all come together obviously and that’s why we’re winning.”
Expansion Vegas Golden Knights Jerseys
A few die-hard hockey fans can probably name more than three Expansion Vegas Golden Knights. By far the biggest names are former Predators forward James Neal, journeyman forward David Perron and three-time Stanley Cup winning goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
After that, there’s Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith, who scored 30 and 15 goals, respectively, for the off-the-radar Panthers last season. William Karlsson was an everyday player in Columbus for two seasons but managed just 15 goals. Erik Haula was a grinder in Minnesota. Cody Eakin disappeared last season in Dallas.
Said Gallant, who realized this team was no fluke about a month into the season: “People started talking around the league, ‘That’s a pretty good hockey team. They work hard and they compete hard. And that’s why they’re having success.’ ”
Gallant arrived in Vegas with something to prove. The 54-year-old was fired by the Panthers 22 games into the 2016-17 season.
Gallant, who averaged 37 goals, 43 assists and 235 penalty minutes for the Detroit Red Wings from 1986-90. Said “I’m not hard on our players,” “I mean I want you to show up like any other coach does and do your job when you’ve got the opportunity.
“But we get a little more patience here, being an expansion team. Guys are going to make mistakes and they’re going to go back on the ice and they’re going to play through those mistakes. That’s been my philosophy for a long time, and I think the players enjoy that.”
From the first home game in October when the Expansion Vegas Golden Knights honored the 58 victims of the Las Vegas shooting with 58 seconds of silence, fans have stood tall and embraced their new team.
“Every visiting team that’s come in here so far says they’ve seen nothing like it,” Gallant said. “It’s a playoff atmosphere the whole time. It really is a big boost to our hockey team because the crowd is so loud. … Every night it’s a party.”
And if opponents party a bit too much before playing Vegas? Well, that’s another advantage the Expansion Vegas Golden Knights are happy to have.
“Vegas is an amazing city,” Lagace said. “I don’t know what teams are doing. I’m sure it’s tempting, but they are professionals, so I’m sure they make the right decision.”
The NHL has added 10 expansion teams in the modern era, with the first being San Jose in 1991-92. Only Tampa Bay (2004) and Anaheim (2007) have won Stanley Cups. And although Florida came close in 1993-94, none of those teams qualified for the playoffs in their first season.
When it came to building its roster, there’s no doubt the Expansion Vegas Golden Knights enjoyed some significant advantages, most notably a salary cap that didn’t exist when the other nine franchises
So can this team do the unthinkable and actually win the Stanley Cup?
It certainly seems possible, but don’t ask Gallant to pull out any crystal balls.
“We’re not even looking at that, honestly,” he said. “People start talking playoffs; for me it’s just about our next game. I mean we’re still a long way from making the playoffs. …
“We’re just trying to get 2 more points in the next game we play and go from there. If we keep playing well, the standings will take care of themselves. …
“We’re having fun. We’re not putting any pressure on our players. Go out and play, have fun and enjoy what’s going on.”
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