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Golden Knights Respond Thursday, Have First Place In Sights

After defeating Vancouver, Vegas saw the return of Malcolm Subban from IR

by Gary Lawless @GoldenKnights / VegasGoldenKnights.com

Late Tuesday night the Vegas Golden Knights flew from Edmonton over to Vancouver and the plane was as quiet as the sky was dark. Thursday night, Vegas boarded their charter and filled the tube with jokes and laughter.

Funny, how that works, silence after a loss and a joyous buzz after a win. It's life on the road for a professional sports team where the rituals are ingrained in the players and the staff surrounding them.

Losing is serious business and the cause for reflection. At some point the page is flipped and usually midway through a flight that's the case.

A win is cause for celebration. Every win in pro sport is valued. It's why everyone around a team gets up in the morning. To win. So, when it happens, there is reflexive relief and happiness. Champagne doesn't get popped after Game Whatever in an NHL season but everyone around a team enjoys the moment for a bit and then it's on to the next opponent. Pro sport is an endless series of challenges. To try and be better than oneself from day to day in training and preparation. To attempt to be better than the opponent in every way no matter the circumstances.

Video: Golden Knights score three in the 3rd to beat Canucks

 

Tuesday night's 8-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers wasn't demoralizing or crippling. But it was, as center Erik Haula put it, "embarrassing."

Vegas didn't stew over the loss but they put it in their pocket like a jagged piece of glass so with every movement in preparation for Thursday's game against the Canucks it provided a sharp reminder of what happens when they don't apply their vaunted work ethic.

The Golden Knights can't coast and they know it, even if sometimes they let it slip their mind.

"We know we have to work and that's what we did (Thursday)," said winger Jonathan Marchessault, after putting in a first star performance in his team's 5-2 win over Vancouver. "We talked a lot about what happened on Tuesday and how we couldn't let it happen again. We just can't play like that. This was much better."

Call it a response game. Call it a statement game. It was another example of the foundation which Vegas has used to build an 11-6-1 mark which was good for second place in the Pacific Division with another divisional matchup coming up Sunday against the first place Los Angeles Kings.

Pardon? That's right, the Golden Knights and Kings will potentially tangle for first place in the division come Sunday depending on how LA does in its match against Florida on Saturday afternoon.

Vegas has surpassed a lot of expectations and with Thanksgiving approaching is staking a claim to be a playoff team.

Teams in the playoff picture on Thanksgiving Day have qualified for the Stanley Cup tournament at a rate
of 78 percent since the year 2000.

 

Video: VGK@VAN: Haula buries Perron's pass for 100th point

 

Ground is hard to make up in the NHL with three points available in each game. The single points awarded for overtime and shootout losses allow teams to tread water and hold a margin built earlier in the season.

Points which Vegas puts in the bank now continue to build that playoff foundation which becomes difficult to erode down the stretch.

The last nine games have been difficult on Vegas as they've gone 3-5-1 while riding Max Lagace, fourth on the organizational depth chart, in goal. Lagace has battled and picked up seven of a possible 18 points over that stretch despite posting an .864 save percentage and 3.88 goals against average.

There's no denying his effort but at this stage of his career the 24-year-old isn't the same caliber as Marc-Andre Fleury or Malcolm Subban.

Lagace cauterized the bleeding in the Vegas net after Fleury, Subban and Oscar Dansk went down with injuries but the pending return of Subban and his .936 save percentage should give the Golden Knights a boost.

Subban was activated from IR on Friday, after practicing with his team for a number of days. He is expected to be available Sunday vs. the Kings.

Subban won't need to be a savior for the Knights but if he can provide stability in the crease - it's a plus.

Vegas has proven resilient and consistent in its play. League average goaltending (.910 save percentage to date this season) or better, will almost certainly add to the club's win total.

 

Video: VGK@VAN: Marchessault nets backhander from the slot

 

Going without its top two goaltenders for a month and staying in the playoff picture is a lot to ask for any team let alone an organization in its first year of existence. The wins picked up over this stretch are a testament to GM George McPhee, who refused to panic and throw away draft picks chasing another club's goaltending refuse, as well as head coach Gerard Gallant and his players who resisted any urge to allow excuses to siphon away the will which fuels their game. They just kept playing and grinding.

When Subban will slide into the net for his next start remains an unknown. How Vegas will play between now and then as well as beyond, however, is a known commodity. They'll work and scrap and find ways to add to their point total. They say adversity can reveal identity. We've seen that through this stretch and it's been impressive. This is a team with spine. It's an organization which believes in its players with a coach who demands a high standard.

The playoffs are still a long way off. But this team is in the hunt and how they handled a surreal run of bad injury luck shows they have the internal stuff to stay in it. 

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