When the Golden Knights schedule came out it was impossible to not focus directly on the eight-game road trip smack dab in the middle of it. Four games before the break, four after, and a 28 day period away from home is about as daunting as it gets in the NHL.
No matter what has been going on this season, that trip was always in plain sight. Whether the Golden Knights were in 1st, 2nd, or out of a playoff trip, none of it would be real until they completed that trip.
It was like a boss in a video game, but not the one at the very end, the one in the middle that ruins your chances of ever even getting to the end. Mr. Sandman for those who played Mike Tyson’s Punchout or that damn Tubular level on Super Mario World.
And like that boss, the only thing that matters is coming out alive.
The Golden Knights tallied nine points on the eight-game trip and actually advanced up the standings in the Pacific (mostly because the division is a dumpster fire). They come back with a different coach, some different tactics, a few new faces in the lineup, but most importantly, with the trip in the rearview mirror.
The entire season has always been clouded by “yeah, but what about that road trip.”
They made it and it didn’t destroy their season (unless you are Gerard Gallant).
But the going isn’t about to get easier, yet. Despite having 10 of the next 12 games at home, the Golden Knights are playing four of the league’s top six teams and six out of seven games against teams currently in the playoff picture.
The first game home off a long road trip is always a trap game and this one especially after stealing a win from Carolina in Raleigh. Then a quick trip out to Minnesota to play the only non-playoff team, followed by home games against five excellent teams and a few repeat opponents from the road trip.
This stretch is arguably tougher than the road trip itself, just with the comforts of home-ice behind it.
Welcome home, now here’s St. Louis, Tampa, New York, Washington, and Florida.
It’s probably just what the Golden Knights need though. They beat the toughest level and can use the confidence to get through another challenging one.
They’ve had a habit of playing down to competition this year. With losses against Detroit, Buffalo, Anaheim, and Los Angeles (twice) the Golden Knights might actually benefit from a gauntlet of a schedule. When installed as a -200 or more favorite, Vegas is just 5-4-2 this season. Meanwhile, when slight favorites at home they have wins against St. Louis, Calgary (twice), Arizona (twice), and Toronto.
The tests keep coming. Some they’ve passed, some they’ve failed, but thanks to a terrible division they are alive and well. Hopefully, it’s hardened them enough to deal with the real test in April and beyond.
Mike Tyson and Bowser await.