The Edmonton Oilers will roll into their bye week after tonight’s game against the Vegas Golden Knights. It’ll be the Oilers’ first trip to Vegas (for the purpose of playing the Golden Knights) ever before, but given the way the season has gone, there won’t be much reason for celebration in Sin City.
1. This season has featured a shocking role reversal in the Pacific Division. To put it bluntly, the Golden Knights are the team that we expected the Oilers to be and the Oilers are the team we expected the Golden Knights to be. Vegas is absolutely killing it in their inaugural season, as they’ve already won more games through the halfway point than all of the 1990s expansion teams did in their entire first seasons. Vegas is 29-10-2 and only the Tampa Bay Lightning have more points in the standings than they do.
2. Vegas had the luxury of access to better players in the expansion draft than any of the Sharks, Panthers, Senators, Lightning, Wild, Blue Jackets, Predators, and Thrashers did, but nobody could have predicted this team having this much success. At the beginning of the season, Vegas appeared to be riding a PDO bubble akin to the one Gerard Gallant had when he coached Florida to a playoff appearance in 2015-16. But as the season has gone on, Vegas has flipped from riding a high shooting and save percentage with poor shot numbers to just simply outplaying opponents. They currently sit 15th in the league in even strength shot attempt differential, right in a category with the Preds, Jets, and Leafs, meaning this isn’t a fluke anymore.
3. But how are they doing it? Vegas ranks fifth in the league in goals for and goals against. Malcolm Subban and Marc-Andre Fleury have been spectacular in net, while William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and James Neal are leading the charge offensively. Like I said, nobody saw this roster doing as well as it has. I think a lot of it has to do with coaching, as Gallant is an old school type coach who seems to be great at getting a lot out of his players. But I think there’s also something to be said about a bunch of good-not-great players who were essentially told they weren’t wanted last summer now coming together to fight to save their careers. Playing in front of a charged up fanbase excited to have a civic identity beyond being a tourist destination probably helps too.
4. Another major key to Vegas’ success thus far has been their play at home. The Golden Knights are damn near unbeatable at T-Mobile arena, as they boast a 18-2-1 record in Vegas. Are they getting fired up by their home crowd or is the other team suffering from some kind of, uh, flu when they travel to Vegas? Probably a little bit of both.
5. Oddly enough, special teams haven’t played much of a role in Vegas’ success this season. They score on 18.32 per cent of their power plays, which ranks 19th in the league, and they kill 81.30 per cent of the other team’s power play opportunities, which ranks 16th in the league. Vegas’ power play is slightly better at home, but it still isn’t world-beating. Edmonton’s special teams, as we know, are horrendous. The team is still in dead last in penalty kill and they rank 26th in power play percentage.
6. The Oilers and Golden Knights have played just once so far this season. It came back in Edmonton in mid-November. The Oilers pounded Vegas 8-2 with their fourth-and fifth-string goalies both getting lit up. After that game, we thought both teams had shown their true colours. The Oilers were a contender beating the crap out of an expansion team and everything made sense. But since then, Vegas has only lost four games in regulation and the Oilers haven’t been able to pull themselves out of purgatory.
7. The Oilers won’t be blessed with facing a shooter tutor this time, as Malcolm Subban will start in net for Vegas. Subban was a first-round pick of the Bruins back in 2012 but was waived in favour of Anton Khudobin a few days into the season. Like the rest of this team, he’s caught fire in Vegas. Subban owns a .918 save percentage in 14 games and he’s won each of his last seven starts. As solid as Subban has been, the Oilers are lucky they aren’t going against Fleury, who’s been virtually unbeatable when healthy this season. Fleury has played in only 12 games because of a concussion, but in those games, he has a ridiculous .945 save percentage.
8. Don’t let the Golden Knights score first. If you do, you’re going to have a bad time. Vegas has the league’s best winning percentage when scoring first, as they’re 18-1-0 in such games. They’ve scored first in 19 games, and they’ve been scored on first in 22 games. They aren’t slouches in games they get scored on first, either. Vegas is second to only Tampa Bay in win percentage when the other team scores first, with a 11-9-2 record. That all adds up for a team in second place in the league.
9. Just about the only adversity the Golden Knights are facing right now is a United States Trademark challenge from Army over their name. In its filing, the Army says the NHL team “has chosen and used a similar black+gold/yellow+white colour scheme on uniforms, marketing, advertisements and its hockey arena, mimicking the opposer’s colours and further adding to the likelihood of confusion of the public.” This is how the Golden Knights responded:
The @GoldenKnights release statement on Dept. of Army going after them on trademark violation grounds.— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) January 11, 2018
"We are not aware of a single complaint from anyone attending our games that they were expecting to see the parachute team and not a professional hockey game" = fine art. pic.twitter.com/981zkOqD9n
10. It’s odd how few inter-division games the Oilers have played thus far. The first chunk of the season featured a lot of out-of-conference games for everyone, adding to some abnormalities in the standings. I doubt the Oilers can climb back into a playoff spot, but since they play so many games against the Pacific in the second half of the season, it’s sort of possible. The Oilers are 7-2 thus far in games against the Pacific and that’s the winning percentage they’ll need to operate at the rest of the way to climb up.
QUICK HITS BROUGHT TO YOU BY ATB FINANCIAL
Let’s show Vegas something they’ve never seen before—Alberta hockey fans.
Enter the Vegas Breakaway for a chance to win a trip for two to Las Vegas and tickets to a Golden Knights game. Enter to win at atb.com/vegas
Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 01/13/2018 – 12:30pm MST