Last season on December 23rd, the Golden Knights lost their second game in a row, and third of their final four before the Christmas break. This year, Vegas lost again on December 23rd.
You have to stay focused on Christmas break and like I said, I wasn’t disappointed with our team tonight, but I have to give credit to Montreal. They came in here and played a hard game, a competitive game, all the things that we talk about being first on pucks… but again I’m disappointed in losing, but I’m pretty happy with that one point… Gallant-12/22/18
… it’s Christmas time and it just seemed like the last two games we had no jump, no energy and probably a lot of family in town and you’ve got to be focused to play in the NHL and play well every night and to me it didn’t look like we were focused enough.-Gallant, 12/23/18
The coach was a little bit lighter this holiday season after their 7-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.
I don’t think that it was that. We looked tired. We looked mentally tired, to me. We just didn’t look like we had the same jump. We’ve played really good hockey lately and tonight was a game that I wanted to play a lot better against the team that beat us here pretty good last time and it just didn’t happen.- Gallant, 12/23/19
The numbers don’t lie.
The final three games before last season’s Christmas break, Vegas was 1-0-2, this season they were 1-1-1. The question is, are the players fully focused this time of year? Or is it just coincidental? Either way, the coach was happy with the timing of the holiday break.
Big time. Yeah, it’s a great break. We played a lot of hockey. We had a lot of travel and I’m sure the guys are tired so it’s a great point, they have three days off and we’ll get back at it after Christmas. -Gallant, 12/23/19
Could it be as simple as being distracted by family members traveling in for the Holidays, or the stress of getting all their Christmas shopping done? Gallant seemed to think so last year, and it sure looks like the same can be said 365 days later. Looking ahead to the break can be dangerous for a team looking to pick up standing points. However, there’s a second trend that comes along with the three days off. Vegas tends to play like they got everything on their Christmas list.
It doesn’t matter which team sport you are talking about, every coach, player, and analyst will tell you the easiest route to the playoffs is by winning division games. While the Golden Knights have had a rocky start to 2019-20, the franchise history of dominating the Pacific has continued.
Vegas currently sits in 2nd place in the division with an 18-13-5 record good for 41 points in 35 games. Against the Pacific Division, they are 8-3-1 or 17 points in 12 games. The Golden Knights started the season winning five of six against the division and have rebounded to win two straight after a 1-2-1 skid.
8-3-1 is a .708 points percentage which translates to 116 points over an 82 game season. Vegas is 10-10-4 against everyone else for a .500 points percentage or an 82 point pace. These numbers are even more drastic over the course of the franchise’s history.
vs. Everyone Else
vs. NHL Pts%
vs. Pacific Pts%
vs. Everyone Else Pts%
vs. NHL Pace
vs. Pacific Pace
vs. Everyone Else Pace
Maybe the biggest reason for this is the play of the Golden Knights 1st line.
The Golden Knights are the reigning Western Conference Champions. They were able to achieve this in large part due to their dominance against the Pacific Division. A year ago, Vegas went 20-6-3 against the Pacific en route to claiming the division title. They then defeated the Pacific Division’s Kings and Sharks to reach the Western Conference Final.
This year, the standings look a bit different with the Golden Knights firmly planted in 3rd place with 79 points through 68 games. That’s seven points short of San Jose and 10 off Calgary’s pace. However, like last year (and every year for that matter), the road to the Western Conference Final for Vegas goes through the Pacific. And while the Golden Knights are playing at just a 58.1% points percentage, they are significantly better against their own division.
vs. Pacific 14-5-2 (.714) vs. Metro 9-6-1 (.593) vs. Central 8-8-0 (.500) vs. Atlantic 6-7-2 (.467)
Vegas has a winning record and/or positive goal differential against every team in the division as well.
vs. Anaheim 4-0-0 (+11 GD) vs. Vancouver 2-0-1 (+3 GD) vs. Arizona 2-1-0 (+2 GD) vs. Calgary 2-1-0 (-2 GD) vs. Los Angeles 2-1-1 (o GD) vs. San Jose 1-1-0 (+5 GD) vs. Edmonton 1-1-0 (+2 GD)
In the division, only the Sharks have a better record than the Golden Knights, and Vegas has the ability to flip that script with a pair of games against San Jose on March 18th and 30th.
San Jose 15-4-3 (.750) Vegas 14-5-2 (.714) Calgary 11-7-2 (.600) Arizona 12-9-2 (.565) Los Angeles 8-8-2 (.500) Vancouver 9-10-4 (.478) Edmonton 8-11-2 (.476) Anaheim 7-10-3 (.425)
In two seasons, the Golden Knights record inside the Pacific Division is an incredible 34-11-5 (.730) with a goal differential of +47 (+26 in 17-18 and +21 in 18-19).
The Golden Knights have eight Pacific Division games remaining on the schedule before what is almost certainly a seven-game series against a division foe in the first round and a seven-game series against another one in the second round.
The playoff format is probably going to change at some point, maybe even as soon as next year, but while it remains the way it is, there’s no question it’s advantage Vegas.
Prior to the game, the Golden Knights retired #58 in honor of the victims of 1 October. Here’s the entire ceremony.
During the game, William Karlsson scored one of the prettiest goals in the NHL this year.
After the game, the Golden Knights awarded their “Inaugural Season Awards.” The winners were:
7th Man Award (Player whose on-ice performance exceeded your expectations this season) – William Karlsson Vegas Strong Award (Player who was most involved in serving and giving back to the Las Vegas community) – Deryk Engelland 1st Star Award (Player who played best on home-ice) – William Karlsson
Pacific Division Titles
Los Angeles Kings 0 Edmonton Oilers 0 Vancouver Canucks 0 Vegas Golden Knights 1
Now if we can just stop playing against blue and orange teams. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)
After every game we post the score of the game and the Golden Knights updated record in parentheses. While the numbers look awesome just as they are, a deeper dive into the real win-loss numbers are even more impressive.
Overall Record: 34-12-4 (72 points/.720 Pt%) vs. Western Conference: 22-6-1 (45 points/.776 Pt%) vs. Pacific Division: 12-1-1 (25 points/.893 Pt%)
That’s right, the Golden Knights are racking up 78% of the of the available points against teams fighting for the same eight playoff spots, and an insane 89% of available points against teams competing for the top three spots in the division.
A .776 points percentage extrapolates to a 127 point season, the .893 points percentage would mean a 146 point season.
To put that in context, the NHL record for points in a season is 132 by the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens. The President’s Trophy winner every year since 2001 has had 120 or fewer points.
But we’re not done here. It gets even better when you consider the goal differentials. Heading into tonight’s game in Minnesota the Golden Knights overall goal differential is +39 in 50 games. In the Western Conference, it’s +30 in 29 games, and in the Pacific Division, it’s +15 in 14 games.
Overall GD: +39 (+0.78 per game) vs. Western Conference: +30 (+1.03 per game) vs. Pacific Division: +15 (+1.07 per game)
They are also scoring more against the teams that matter most. 102 goals against the West, 51 against the Pacific, compared to just 69 against the Eastern Conference.
This is all amazing news for those hoping the magical season doesn’t come to a screeching halt when the playoffs begin. The first three rounds are guaranteed to be against the Western Conference, and at least one of those three is guaranteed to be a Pacific Division foe (and not the Oilers).
One game at a time, just get the two points, every game is the same, blah blah blah. They may believe it, or at least they are going to keep saying it, but the results on the ice show they are good in all games, great in the slightly more important games, and unbelievable in the really big ones.
Oh how much we miss you on a night like tonight Clayton Stoner. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)
Tonight the Golden Knights are seeking their fifth divisional win and third in a row. Vegas is 4-1-0 in the Pacific and are just one point out of first place with two games in hand.
Divisional games are supposed to have more energy and passion than other games on the schedule. Against the Kings, fans of both teams felt the playoff-type atmosphere at the T-Mobile arena. The real question is, did it feel like the beginning of a rivalry to the teams playing?
It does, it does. They play hard, they play a fast game. Their crowd is into it. They’re a really good addition, and will be a rival in the division. -John Stevens, Kings Head Coach
Wasn’t just him either.
Yes definitely, the building was loud and had a lot of energy. They are a good team and a fast team. They came out hard right away and we weren’t ready for it. -Trevor Lewis, Kings Forward
The Golden Knights have made it rather clear to the Pacific Division, they are not your traditional expansion pushover.
Realignment has come up lately, but this time it wasn’t an NHL proposal. No, it came from our friend Slack who’s part of the ever-growing SinBin infantry. Slack broke down his proposal for Western Conference realignment in response to my ‘Fear Edmonton‘ article. With the new Seattle arena news, Slack proposed his changes for the NHL Pacific and Central divisions.
Slack’s realignment model:
PACIFIC: Vancouver, Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Las Vegas, Arizona, Dallas
CENTRAL: Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Minnesota, Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville, Colorado
So let’s start with the Pacific. You obviously cannot split up Anaheim, LA, and San Jose. First, it’s the perfect travel triangle for divisional play. If you look at the Metropolitan, most teams could travel by bus to most divisional games. The Rangers, Islanders, and Devils all get to go home after they play each other. So breaking up the California three is not an option. Vancouver is as west as you can get, it wouldn’t make sense for the Canucks to consistently travel to the Midwest. Also, with the possible addition of a Seattle franchise it would set up nicely for a border rivalry. Arizona is a team that could move, but the NHL would like to see a Southwestern rivalry with the Knights.
For a while now we’ve just kind of figured Las Vegas would be placed in the Pacific Division with the likes of Los Angeles, Anaheim, Phoenix, San Jose and the western Canadian teams. However, with the probability of Quebec getting an expansion team seemingly hitting rock bottom, it’s not that far fetched to think Las Vegas could end up in the Central as the NHL eyes the future.
The possibilities involving massive realignment are endless, just check out all these scenarios. But it seems much more likely since the big realignment in 2013 that the league would prefer to simply add to the existing divisions.
So how about that Pacific Division? Talk about coming down to the wire. Tomorrow the Kings will host the Ducks for the division. Both tied at 99 points, the NHL couldn’t have scripted it any better. Both teams are desperate to win the Pacific, because each would rather play Nashville over San Jose. Playing a divisional foe in the first round is always a challenge. Remember two years ago, the Kings on the brink of elimination, won four straight against the Sharks. Then beat the Ducks in seven on their way to their second Cup. It doesn’t matter what division, playing a rival isn’t ideal. The Ducks, Kings and Sharks are all capable of succeeding in the playoffs. All three organizations know that their first round matchup might be the toughest.
Obviously, we know how good the top Pacific teams are but what about the lower tier. How good can the Flames, Canucks, Oilers and Coyotes be? Sure we see young skilled talent in Calgary, Edmonton and Arizona but will they compete? That’s a question The Creator should ask as well. Can the bottom four rosters ever win in a top heavy division? I don’t think so. John Gaudreau is an amazing talent, but who protects him? And I’m not talking about Marty McSorley, goon protection crap. I’m talking about giving Johnny space on the ice to use his speed, and skill. There’s a rumor Milan Lucic may be interested in Calgary. He’d be the perfect line mate for Gaudreau. Lucic can score, and he scare the bleep out of opposing players. The power forward would automatically make Calgary more physical. Something they’re not known for. Same goes for Edmonton. Connor McDavid may take over the league, but he’s gonna need help. Issues The Creator might have when he drafts a top three pick. You need to protect your assets Bill.
When Las Vegas drops the puck in 2017 (assuming an announcement comes “some time in June”), the rest of the Pacific Division will be licking their chops. Established teams will be looking to pad points against the new team. That’s a normal process that any expansion team goes through. Call it growing pains. How can Creator and Co. prevent this? Well, let’s be honest it’s gonna be tough. Top NHL teams have a hard time figuring out Jonathan Quick, a roster of unprotected players probably won’t do any better. It’ll also be tough keeping Scorey Perry, and Jumbo Joe off the score board.
Maybe there is a way Las Vegas could be competitive. The Creator’s staff should design a roster strictly built for the Pacific Division. That means defense, size and physicality. Chances are the starting goaltender won’t be a top ten goaltender, so he’ll need help. Building a blue line with experience and size can help Las Vegas stay competitive. Top Centers Ryan Getzlaf, and Anze Kopitar take over games offensively, a strong backend can keep the score close. I know he’s not popular, but a guy like Dennis Wideman could be unprotected and fit well in Las Vegas. A Defenseman that could be unprotected and would be a dream come true for Las Vegas is the Duck’s Simon Despres. The 6’4, 24 year-old blueliner might be a victim of Anaheims crowded backend. The Ducks will be upset letting Despres go and could be part of the Las Vegas’ first pairing. Who knows maybe Shea Weber could be available. Size and defense.
I could do this all day, Dustin Brown, Jakob Silfverberg, maybe even Rick Nash could be left unprotected. All three forwards would fit perfectly. Silfverberg is part of the most effective checking line in hockey. Nash could provide offense, and size. Brown, well, you know how I feel about him. It’s not about the score sheet for Dusty. At average NHL size, the Kings Captain plays with more physicality than anyone in the league. He leads the box score in hits annually, and is a two-time Cup winning Captain. He’s a pretty good leader. The Creator, fans, and the league want Las Vegas to compete right away. Building around the division is one way to achieve that goal.