Tonight the Golden Knights begin the longest homestand of the season and tied for the second longest in team history.
Vegas has had its struggles at home this season but have certainly picked up the pace a bit with three straight wins at T-Mobile Arena. Plus, after scoring just 11 goals in the previous seven home games, VGK have posted 13 in regulation and another in OT in the past three.
The challenge is about to get a bit tougher though as the level of competition heading into the visitor’s locker room is certainly a step up from what the Golden Knights have faced to this point.
In the first 40 games of the season, the Golden Knights’ opponents have been outscored by 195 goals, including the 21 Vegas has been responsible for. Over the course of this seven-game homestand, the teams the Golden Knights will be facing have a combined +101 goal differential, nearly a 300 goal gap in around 1500 total games.
It gets even worse when you look at just the home games. In the Golden Knights’ 20 home games, they’ve played teams with a combined .531 points percentage. Those 20 teams have amassed a -91 goal differential, being outscored 3.07 to 3.19 per game. Vegas has won 11 of those 20 games and the numbers tank hard when you consider just the opponents they’ve beaten.
Heading into the faux bye-week, the Golden Knights are 23-14-2. They are in 1st place in the Pacific Division, both by points and points percentage. However, Vegas sits 5th in the West and 13th in the league in points percentage.
It’s been a bit of a rocky road to get here. After dropping three of their first four games in regulation, the Golden Knights ripped off 11 wins in their next 15 games. Then they lost three of six before winning seven of the following eight. Now, they are amidst a stretch of four losses in five games.
One of the main reasons for the ups and downs to this point has been the health of the roster. The Golden Knights still lead the league, by a wide margin, in both man-games lost and cap-hit of injured players.
The next man up stuff is getting a little old. You just hope it all evens out. I think we’ve been hit harder than anybody this year and ou group hasn’t used it as an excuse any night. -Pete DeBoer
To this point in the season, the Golden Knights have played the 13th hardest schedule in the NHL (per ESPN.com). They have the 8th easiest schedule remaining per Tankathon.com. This is excellent news because they have struggled a bit with the better teams in the NHL. It has affected all of their totals, but it’s been specifically impactful in the road record.
Unlike most years in the past, the Golden Knights have been better on the road than they have at home. They’ve boasted an 11-5-0 record on the road while just 12-9-2 at home.
There’s an old saying in sports that goes something like “you can only play what’s in front of you.” The idea is that a team has no control over the level of competition on their schedule. Their job is to simply go out and handle that competition night in and night out.
The Golden Knights have been doing just that. 30 games into the season, Vegas leads their division and stands in 2nd place in the entire NHL in points percentage. They have an impressive +33 goal differential, winning streaks of four, five, and six games, and haven’t lost more than two games in a row all year.
It’s all great and would be easy to proclaim the Golden Knights among the clear-cut Stanley Cup favorites this season, but here’s the problem.
This year, due to the unbalanced shortened schedule, it does matter who you are playing.
Because each team is strictly playing teams inside of their division, strength of schedule absolutely matters when discussing the overall ranking of teams.
The West is the only division in the NHL to contain three teams (SJS, LAK, ANA) that missed the 24-team playoff last season. The East has two (BUF, NJD), while the North (OTT) and Central (DET) each have one.
All seven of those teams currently sit on the outside of the playoff picture and one of the seven represents a team in dead last in each of the four respective divisions. Ottawa, Buffalo, Detroit, New Jersey, Anaheim, and San Jose are all unquestionably terrible NHL teams. Maybe you can make the case the Kings have taken a small step in the right direction, but even that could be considered a stretch.
Thus, playing in the West offers a massive advantage to the five teams that did reach the playoffs last season. On each of their schedules, they play 24 games, or 43% of the schedule, against non-playoff teams. Compare that to teams in the East who get just 16 or those in the North and Central that get eight or nine.
In determining the best team in each division, the schedule is balanced and thus fair, but when trying to figure out how teams across divisions stack up, records and stats from the West must be taken with a grain of salt, similarly to how we do with college sports. When collegiate sports are judged in determining bowl games or the NCAA tournament, conference, and competition, matter. An undefeated team in a conference with weak competition is often considered much worse than a team with many losses in a challenging conference. This year, the West Division is the NHL’s equivalent of college football’s Big East or basketball’s Mountain West.
I went through all 31 teams to show how many points each have racked up against the seven non-playoff teams from last year, plus how many games are left on the schedule to score even more easy points in the back half of the season.