On Wednesday night the Golden Knights players were forced to protect themselves from questionable hits and after whistle scrums. It was a scene Vegas fans saw play out a half-dozen times in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Florida Panthers. Sure, the Los Angeles’ Hayden Hodgson isn’t Matthew Tkachuk, but he hit like a Tkachuk on Wednesday.
Hayden Hodgson absolutely runs over Mark Stone and the #GoldenKnights take exception
The Kings ended up tying the game late in the 3rd period and went on to win in overtime. However, that wasn’t their only self-victory that evening. After a questionably late hit on Mark Stone, the Golden Knights appropriately erupted and jumped the career AHL’er. At first look, it’s a desperate player trying to crack an NHL roster and his open check on Stone naturally drew the attention of Kings coaches and others.
You need moments like that and plays like that too. We just looked at it. It was a very clean, good hit. Solid hit. And they didn’t like it and we scored right after and then it’s just one goal and I know they scored too, but I think scoring a goal in this building that kind of shows ‘okay, we can score too’. So definitely that helped and in the 3rd period we just wanted to slow things down and kind of stay calm and just focus on our game, that’s all. And that’s exactly what we did. –Marco Sturm, Ontario Reign head coach
There aren’t many head coaches as familiar with the Golden Knights as LA’s Todd McLellan. Last night represented the 23rd time McLellan faced Vegas in their six-year franchise history.
I was impressed with our group the way we played early. We were fast, we executed well, our passing was crisp, we worked into position. Let’s call it what it is, [coming out of a break] it’s usually pretty or ugly and you have your fingers crossed that pretty shows up and that was the case for us in the first period. If you recall a year ago coming back, it was ugly against Vegas, so maybe somewhere in the back of their minds they remembered that. -Todd McLellan, LAK Coach
Since being hired in LA, McLellan is 8-10-0 against Vegas. With the exception of the shortened 56-game season, the Kings have had some level of success against the Golden Knights under their current coach. Vegas took six of eight from Los Angeles in 2020-21, but are a combined 4-5-1 outside of that NCAA-style schedule.
Also, as coach of the Edmonton Oilers, the veteran bench boss posted a 3-2-0 record against the Golden Knights. Last night, McLellan joined Jared Bednar, Craig Berube, and Bruce Boudreau as the only four to beat the Golden Knights under all three coaches in team history. To say he has experience coaching against Vegas would be an understatement.
Yeah, I think we played great. I think we started the game well, we were all over them at the start and I think that was that was good and the team kept it going. -Victor Arvidsson, LAK Forward
Apparently records don’t matter to the Calgary Flames. Even with a seven point lead, the Flames felt like the underdog in their 3-2 loss Sunday night at T-Mobile Arena. Currently, Calgary is in 1st place in the Pacific Division but are highly aware of how dangerous a healthy Golden Knights an be.
Well, they’re the best team on paper. They’re clearly the best team out West, maybe other than the team that owns the Stanley Cup, if you look at it.
It’s not even that close, to tell you the truth. -Darryl Sutter, Calgary coach
That’s high praise coming from a two-time Stanley Cup winning coach. Sutter won with teams that didn’t win their division, twice. In 2012 & 2014 the LA Kings finished 3rd in the Pacific Division yet went on to win two silver chalices. Sutter’s Kings were never considered Cup favorites but he believed they were as deep as any opponent they faced. In Sutter’s first Stanley Cup run, LA finished the season with 95 points and eliminated a 111 point Vancouver Canucks club in five games.
After four NHL seasons the Golden Knights have benefited by playing in the Pacific Division. Since 2017, Vegas has played 113 games against their divisional “rivals” and tallied a total of 168 out of a possible 226 points. That’s an astonishing .743 Points % against the Pacific Division in four seasons.
Hockey’s been a little bit tough with our team not being very good the last few years and not getting back to the playoffs… Things are looking up for us now. We got some new players and some young guys coming up. I’m excited for this season to start.- Drew Doughty, LAK defenseman on 32 Thoughts Podcast
Let’s be honest, it’s been easy street for the Golden Knights since they entered the league.
VGK All-Time Record vs. Pacific Division
vs. Anaheim: 20 Games (17-3-0) 34 Pts, .850 Pts %, 74 Goals For, 37 Goals Allowed, +37 Goal Differential
vs. Arizona: 20 Games (14-6-0) 28 Pts, .700 Pts %, 57 Goals For, 46 Goals Allowed, + 11 Goal Differential
vs. Calgary: 11 Games (8-3-0) 16 Pts, .727 Pts %, 42 Goals For, 31 Goals Allowed, + 11 Goal Differential
vs. Edmonton: 11 Games (6-4-1) 13 Pts, .591 Pts %, 35 Goals For, 31 Goals Allowed, +4 Goal Differential
vs. LA: 21 Games (11-8-2) 24 Pts, .571 Pts %, 63 Goals For, 60 Goals Allowed, +3 Goal Differential
vs. San Jose: 20 Games (16-1-3) 35 Pts, .875 Pts %, 78 Goals For, 40 Goals Allowed, +38 Goal Differential
vs. Vancouver: 10 Games (8-0-2) 18 Pts, .900 Pts %, 45 Goals For, 26 Goals Allowed, +19 Goal Differential
Since their existence the Golden Knights have proven to be the team to beat in the Pacific. Vegas has a positive goal differential against every team in the division and holds an overall goal differential of +123, talk about dominance. All indications show it should be the same in 2021-22.
Only a few west coast teams have kept their games with Vegas competitive but still not enough to threaten their path to the playoffs. Sure, San Jose won their seven game series in 2019 but in the regular season it’s been embarrassingly lopsided. Since that series three postseasons ago, the Sharks have been a non-factor in the Pacific, same goes for Anaheim, Calgary and Vancouver. However, two clubs that will make things more difficult for Vegas this season are the Kings and Oilers. Each team has challenged Vegas in the regular season being edged out by one game in their series history with the 31st franchise.
While it’s hard to make judgements based off two exhibition games but it’s safe to say that Los Angeles is an improved club. Even with a lack of talent in their lineup the King’s have competed in most matchups. Coming into 2021-22, LA and Knight killer Philip Danault will continue to frustrate VGK’s offensive threats. Coveted prospects are performing at a high level and LA’s star veterans could create further problems for Vegas and the rest of the Pacific Division.
There’s not much to say about Edmonton. As long as they dress Connor McDavid every game is up in the air. Same can be said for the newest team in hockey. Seattle is the biggest wildcard in the division. Based on what the Golden Knights did in their inaugural season you’d be a fool to count out the Kraken. Calgary, San Jose and Vancouver are expected to finish below Vegas but one of those three teams could make a surprising push for the postseason.
All in all, the Pacific Division is still considered relatively weak but has improved. Vegas is the only team that isn’t being doubted by analysts across the league. The other seven teams have questions to answer and it should be a tight battle for two of three divisional playoff spots. Although the Pacific may have gotten better and could make it more difficult for Vegas to run away with the division but it’s still the Golden Knights to lose.