Nam Y. Huh / AP
Friday, Jan. 12, 2018 | 2 a.m.
The Golden Knights have reached the midway point of their inaugural season, and the first half couldn’t have been better.
Vegas has shattered nearly every expansion record through 41 games and leads the Western Conference with an impressive record of 29-10-2. If the Golden Knights replicate that record over the final 41 games, they would become only the fourth team since 1997 to break the 120-point threshold. That’s unlikely.
Here are three things that are likely to stay the same for the Golden Knights during the second half of the season, and three that will likely change.
Stay the same:
The Golden Knights have allowed the 10th fewest goals in the NHL at 2.7 per game, and accomplished that despite the fact that starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury played two fewer games than fourth-stringer Maxime Lagace.
The injuries at the goaltender position aren’t likely to repeat. With Fleury back after missing two months with a concussion and Malcolm Subban playing in his relief, the Golden Knights should be able to count on solid goaltending for the remainder of the season.
In the 16 games this season started by Lagace and Oscar Dansk, who started the year in the American Hockey League, Vegas allowed 3.38 goals per game. In the 25 games started by Fleury and Subban, Vegas has allowed only 2.12 goals per game.
The Golden Knights are the only team in the NHL with two goalies ranked in the top-10 in goals against average. Fleury ranks first at 1.73 and Subban 10th at 2.38.
Not only do the Golden Knights lead the Pacific Division at the midway point of the season, they’ve dominated their divisional foes. Vegas has an 11-1-0 record against teams in the Pacific, which is the best inter-division record of any team in the NHL.
They may not continue at that pace, but the Golden Knights’ speedy lineup matches extremely well with the older, slower teams in the Pacific like the Kings, Ducks and Sharks. Add to that the Golden Knights may play in the worst division in hockey, and it wouldn’t be crazy for them to win nearly every divisional matchup.
At this point it seems likely the Central Division will get both wild card spots and the Pacific will be limited to only three playoff teams.
The Golden Knights lead the NHL with 488 takeaways, which is 56 more than the next closest team — Carolina with 432.
Certain things in hockey (and sports in general) can be attributed to chance. Hockey people call it puck luck. Goal scoring can come and go, with hot streaks and cold streaks, as can goaltending to a degree, but one thing that can remain constant is effort.
Through the first 41 games the Golden Knights have consistently outworked their opponents, and there’s no reason it won’t continue. That’s because the Golden Knights have one of the deepest rosters in the league, and coach Gerard Gallant spreads the ice time more evenly than any coach in the NHL.
That means top-line players are fresher, and can forecheck for the entire game without worrying about conserving energy for later. Nearly every team that’s come into T-Mobile Arena has complimented the Golden Knights’ relentless pressure.
Likely to change:
The Golden Knights have the best home record in the NHL at 18-2-1.
Whether it’s teams coming to town focused on something other than the hockey game, the atmosphere inside T-Mobile Arena, or the fact that Vegas is just a really good team, it’s clear the Golden Knights have one of the best home ice advantages in the league.
Don’t expect that to change drastically. But they can’t keep up the pace they’re currently on. If they did, it would tie the 1975-76 Philadelphia Flyers for the most home wins in a single season in NHL history.
Vegas will host some talented teams in the second half of the season, starting with a struggling-but-dangerous Oilers squad on Saturday. In their first meeting on Nov. 14 the Oilers beat the Golden Knights 8-2.
Scoring should dip
Vegas is currently second in the NHL with 3.44 goals per game, behind only Tampa Bay.
William Karlsson is tied for fifth in the league with 22 goals. He’s on pace to record 72 points this season, and his career-high prior to this year was only 36. The 25-year-old has turned a corner, centering the most productive line in hockey and playing more minutes than he ever has, but to expect him to continue scoring at this pace is unlikely.
James Neal has already seen a curtail in goals, scoring only six in his last 20 games after netting 12 in the first 21 of the season.
Only 17 players in the entire NHL topped 70 points last season, and the Golden Knights have three players (Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith) currently on pace for that.
While the Golden Knights could still finish in the top-10 in goals scored, it’s doubtful they’ll maintain this pace.
More goals from Colin Miller
While the production of some of the forwards is bound to slow down at some point, the Golden Knights may get a boost from the blue line.
Miller has established himself as a clear offensive threat through the first 41 games but has struggled to put the puck in the back of the net. It’s not a stat that’s recorded, but Miller has hit more posts than any player on the team, many of which he had the goaltender beat on the play.
He leads all defensemen with 2:38 of power play ice time per game and has 21 points on the season (five goals and 16 assists).
It’s no secret Miller launches missiles from the point with his slap shot. In the 2015 AHL All-Star skills competition he had the hardest shot in the 20-year history of the event, clocking at 105.5 miles per hour.
Miller is tied for third on the Golden Knights with 93 shots on goal and a lot more than five should find the net in the second half of the season.