The Catalyst

The Golden Misfits

Jaden Cover, Sports Editor

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Five-hundred to one odds. When the Westgate Superbook released each National Hockey League team’s odds to win the Stanley Cup before regular season play, Las Vegas’ own Golden Knights found themselves at the very bottom. Thirteen people placed bets on Vegas with the highest coming in at $20 dollars. If Vegas were to win, they would yield $10,000 in winnings.

This draft allowed the Golden Knights to be much more competitive on paper than previous expansion rules allowed. When the Washington Capitals entered the league in 1974, teams were allowed to protect 17 skaters. This resulted in an NHL record for fewest wins at eight in an 80 game season.

Although the expansion draft rules were more in favor of Vegas than they had been for previous teams, most experts placed them at or near the bottom of the preseason power rankings. Each team in the league could secure seven forwards, three defenseman, and one goalie from their rosters, meaning Vegas would have to settle for role players and would lack a true superstar from their lineup

Vegas started the season 2-0 with road wins against the Dallas Stars and the mediocre Arizona Coyotes. Then the Golden Knights played at home for the first time in franchise history. General Manger George McPhee had an array of activities planned for the first home game, but his plans took a turn when the Las Vegas shooting occurred on October 1st.

Anticipation turned to mourning, and the team knew Las Vegas needed an outlet to help begin the healing process.  Instead of advertisements on the boards, “Vegas Strong” was plastered in place. The arena held a 52 seconds moment of silence for the 52 victims, and their names were spotlighted on center ice. The city was able to rally behind their squad as they throttled the Coyotes once again 5-2.

The hot streak continued, and despite a plethra of injuries to their goaltending, Vegas jumped out to a 9-1 record. Even with the best record at the NHL, many analyst were not sold on this team’s ability. Their most notable goal scorer was James Neal, and many thought he was already out of his prime and would most likely be traded at midseason to acquire draft picks.

The deadline eventually came and went. Vegas was sitting at first in the Western Conference, and switched their mentality from sellers to buyers. They added pieces to this year’s team rather than stripping them away. McPhee had stated before the season that his vision was to make the playoffs in three years and win the Stanley Cup in five, but his plan was beginning to take shape prematurely

Vegas was on record setting pace for a first year expansion team. On February 1st, they notched their 34th win against the Winnipeg Jets, breaking the record for most wins in an inaugural season… they still had 32 games left in the seasons. They went on to set the records for most points in a season, home wins, road wins, and about every other important statistical category by an expansion team.

The regular season ended earlier this month and Vegas finished with a record of 51-24-7, good enough to clinch the Pacific Division and the second best record in the Western Conference behind the Nashville Predators. It is often said that the NHL Playoffs is a season of its own, so the doubters returned and many expected the Golden Knights to falter in post-season play.

The first round matchup for Vegas paired them against the Los Angeles Kings. Despite being a wildcard, the Kings were thought to be a tough draw for the Golden Knights. Los Angeles won the Cup in 2012 and 2014 and have built a mini-dynasty through tough defense, outstanding goaltending from Jonathan Quick, and a knack for winning in the Playoffs.

Vegas shooed off the most pessimistic analyst by sweeping the Kings in four games, winning each by one goal. This was the first time an expansion team (MLB, NHL, or MLB) has swept a best-of-seven series. Marc-Andre Fleury allowed only three goals and the 33 year-old posted two shutouts.

The second round matchup with San Jose proved more difficult for the Golden Knights, but they still pulled away in the last two games, clinching their birth in the Western Conference Finals. Vegas outscored the Sharks 22-14 throughout the games, including two more shutouts for Fleury.

No expansion team has ever won a title in their first season in the four major North American professional sports. The underdog story is still intact for the Vegas Golden Knights, but on the strip, the bookkeepers are buying it. Currently, the Golden Knights sit on top for best odds to win the Stanley Cup Finals. This is a far cry from the 500-1 odds at the beginning of the season.

Head coach Gerald Gallant brought a fast-pace style to the team with players constantly circling through the neutral zone with head of steam. They generate a lot of scoring opportunities from team speed because they consistently enter the attacking zone with odd numbers. With Fleury playing his best goaltending in years, the Golden Knights can be more aggressive on the fore-check. Vegas ranked sixth in goals per game in the regular season, netting 3.29 per game, and they only surrendered 2.67 per game, fifth best.

This team is multi-dimensional, and they have the fire power up front and consistency in the back to hang with anyone. There is not a better team in hockey in my opinion, and I am predicting a showdown between them and the two-time defending champs in Pittsburgh.

Bold prediction: Vegas wins in six and Fleury hoists the Cup for the first time in Pittsburgh, being that the Penguins have clinched all their Stanley Cups on the road.

 

 

 

 

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