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December 15, 2017

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Analysis: It’s easy to be in awe of Golden Knights’ continued success

Golden Knights win seventh straight game at T-Mobile Arena

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John Locher/AP

Vegas Golden Knights goalie Maxime Lagace makes a save against the Los Angeles Kings during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017, in Las Vegas.

Vegas Golden Knights Defeat Los Angeles Kings 4-2

A man dressed as a Golden Knight is shown at T-Mobile Arena Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017. Launch slideshow »

Forty days ago, the Golden Knights christened T-Mobile Arena by beating the Arizona Coyotes with what some called a once in lifetime performance.

That’s turned out to be a lie.

Oh, the Golden Knights’ home opener has secured its place in Las Vegas lore because of its historic nature and the touching tribute to the October 1 victims and first responders. But, as for the hockey, the blowout win over the Coyotes was no irregularity and probably had less to do with emotion than initially indicated.

It was more of an intimation of things to come, an intimation that should have been taken more seriously. The Golden Knights have proven time and again since then that they’re a force in their inaugural season, with the best evidence yet coming Sunday night at T-Mobile Arena.

Vegas wrecked the Los Angeles Kings 4-2 in the most significant game of its year so far.

“It’s the NHL, and we’re not going to be a team that’s going to be intimidated by anybody,” Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant said. “I want our guys to play our game every night, and when we play our game, we’re a pretty good hockey team.”

They’re a good enough team to, for all intents and purposes, be leading the Pacific Division at the unofficial quarter pole of the season. Vegas’ is actually one point behind Los Angeles, but the latter has played in two more games to complete exactly one-fourth of its schedule.

And lately the Golden Knights have done it behind a fourth-string goalie in Maxime Lagace that was considered a subpar American Hockey League goalie at the beginning of the season. Contrast that with the Kings’ Jonathan Quick, whom Gallant repeatedly deemed one of the best goalies in the NHL.

Quick managed six saves on Sunday; Lagace stopped 27.

The Kings pulled Quick after he gave up three goals in 11:22 of game time including a pair to red-hot Golden Knights center William Karlsson. His first came in 55 seconds, the earliest goal in Golden Knights history and nearly two minutes quicker than they scored in the memorable game against the Coyotes.

Meanwhile, Lagace could have put together an audition tape for Golden Knights’ partner Cirque Du Soleil with a couple of the acrobatic ways he turned away shots from the Kings.

“He competed and battled,” Gallant said. “I thought the kid made some real big saves tonight at key times.”

Lagace eventually gave up a goal in both the second and third periods to make it a one-score game with 9:45 to play. The mood in the arena turned tense, but it ended up being all for the better as the Golden Knights seized on an opportunity to showcase their considerable resolve.

The team that’s already established a reputation for playing as hard as anyone in the league found a way to rev it up to another gear. Defenseman Brayden McNabb operated with power not seen at the site since when bulldozers broke ground on T-Mobile Arena three years ago.

McNabb and fellow defensemen Deryk Engelland each dove hard on the ice at different times to back up Lagace and potentially prevent goals. The Golden Knights produce so many small moments like that every game that it almost feels like they’re being taken for granted.

Don’t take them for granted.

They’re all adding up to allow the Golden Knights, now 8-1 at home, to achieve something rare.

To put it into perspective, Vegas’ preseason over/under points total was 68.5. Prorate that to this point of the season, and the number implies the Golden Knights were supposed to have around 15 points. They’re already at 25, making them easily the team the furthest ahead of their expectation in the league.

“I knew we had a good team right from the get-go,” Engelland said. “I think the first few games, seeing how the team came together and battled, we knew we had that chance to do something special.”

The players might have been the only ones. Any playoff talk sounded like a total delusion back then.

Now, it feels like a distinct possibility. The Golden Knights came into Sunday with a 75 percent chance to reach the postseason per Hockey Reference’s playoff probability report.

Other statistical-based sources had lower — none fewer than 60 percent — for those skeptical. But it’s time to stop doubting the Golden Knights.

From the first time they skated on their home ice, they’ve shown they’re for real.

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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