When the Golden Knights returned from their successful trip to Nashville and Dallas, coach Gerard Gallant was definitely a bit concerned about the five-game homestand centered around the Christmas break.
Sometimes around the holidays, your focus is somewhere else. We talk about that, let’s make sure we are focused on these next five games and then the holidays start. You’ve got kids and families around for the holidays. Sometimes it’s easier to be on the road. We’ve just got to make sure we are focused. -Gerard Gallant on December 11th
Well, they must have been focused because the Golden Knights have put together a stretch of three wins in the first four games and have racked up seven of the eight possible points along the way.
But there’s still one game left on this homestand and it may just be the stiffest test of all of them. Washington plays the style of game that Vegas has struggled with. They take care of the puck in their own end, they are strong in transition, and when they get set up in the offensive zone they are lethal.
A 3-1-1 homestand would certainly not be viewed as anything but a major success considering the opponents the Golden Knights have faced. However, for most players and coaches normally when asked about stretches of games coaches and players tend to resort to the old cliche of “the next game.” That wasn’t so much the case, much to my surprise, for Gallant looking ahead to this one.
I admitted to you, we had five games before the break and they were all home games. I probably said let’s do real well here and right now we’re doing real well, we’re 3-0-1 in those five games. I want to win that next game, it’s an important game, but we’ve had a great stretch with this five game run no matter what happens. (extended pause) But I want to win it! -Gerard Gallant
He added that part at the end while someone else was asking a question. Almost as if he realized, “oh crap, Ken is going to take that quote and write a story about how I think the homestand is already a success and we still have one game to go.”
He was right. That’s exactly what this story is.
I’m not saying they don’t care if they win this game. What I am saying is the reason people break seasons down into segments is to prepare for the lapses. You hear things like “if we play .500 on the road” or “get one of these next two,” all the time. Why this type of mentality exists is because we all hate losing, so we don’t get want to allow ourselves to get too low when there are losses. Everyone understands losses are inevitable in the NHL, no team wins all 82 games, but no one likes it. So, we try to trick our minds into rationalizing losses by grouping them in with other wins. It’s human nature and a great coping mechanism for the ups-and-downs that come along with a hockey season.
Before this homestand, if you told anyone the Golden Knights would go 3-1-1 they would have been thrilled. That means wins over at least one of the three of Washington, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay plus an additional point. Sounds great.
But here we are now, with wins over the Penguins, Lightning, and Panthers and a shootout loss to Carolina. The Golden Knights have already won the homestand. To use Gallant’s words, “we’ve had a great stretch with this five game run no matter what happens.”
The pre-holiday work is done. Vegas has 46 points in 33 games, a spot near the top of the Western Conference, and a healthy cushion in the playoff picture. The Golden Knights are going to have a very Merry Christmas no matter what happens tonight.
The question is, do they really NEED this win like they felt they did against Pittsburgh, Florida, and Tampa Bay? Or is it more of an afterthought… kind of like the end of Gallant’s answer.