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Golden Knights have jelled quickly, aim to make more history

Can become fastest team of expansion era to win eight games in first season

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

LAS VEGAS -- The Vegas Golden Knights might be an expansion team, but they're not clowning around. They're the real deal. They have "it."

 

[RELATED: Perron, 2-year-old go for a skate at Golden Knights practice rink | For AHL teams, No. 3 often means No. 1 when it comes to goaltending]

 

Forget their 7-1-0 record, best in the NHL in terms of points percentage (.875). Look at their Halloween party at Topgolf on Wednesday.

Forward James "The Real Deal" Neal came dressed as Pennywise from "It," the 1986 Stephen King novel and 2017 horror movie. He had the silver clown suit and red balloon. He had the white makeup with the red smile curling from the corners of his mouth to the tops of his eyes.

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury looked at him. Neal stared back, all dark and sinister.

"I was creeping a few people out," Neal said Thursday.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Vegas has become the first team in the NHL's 100-year history to win seven of its first eight games in its inaugural season.

Video: Vegas is off to a historic start in its first season

If the Golden Knights defeat the Colorado Avalanche at T-Mobile Arena on Friday (6 p.m. ET; TVA Sports, ATTSN-RM, ALT, NHL.TV), they will reach eight wins far faster than any team has in its inaugural season since the NHL expanded from six teams in 1967-68.

The Philadelphia Flyers and the Los Angeles Kings each reached eight wins in 17 games in 1967-68. No team has reached eight in fewer in its inaugural season since, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

What's more, if the Golden Knights defeat the Avalanche, they will have won five straight games, matching the longest winning streak in an inaugural season in NHL history, according to Elias. The New York Rangers had a five-game winning streak in 1926-27. The Edmonton Oilers had one in 1979-80.

But that isn't the scary part. The scary part is how quickly they have come together as a team, on the ice and off, and how bloodless they have been. Entering the season they had enough veterans to know they were better than a typical expansion team.

Now they know they're no better than off to a hot start.

"I think the main thing is to be consistent, to keep it going," Neal said. "It can easily go away, and you'll forget about the good start. We want to stay confident and continue to keep playing well."

No plans for the Stanley Cup Playoffs yet, let alone a parade down the Strip.

"We need to keep having the same hardworking mentality and not start thinking we're a good team in a way, because things can slip right away if you do that," forward David Perron said. "We know we have so much work still to do for even being in the talk of making playoffs."

The Golden Knights benefitted from expansion draft rules designed to make them more competitive than past expansion teams. The other 30 teams could protect seven forwards, three defensemen and a goaltender, or eight skaters and a goaltender.

Vegas also benefitted from a favorable schedule. Since playing its first two games on the road back to back, at the Dallas Stars on Oct. 6 and the Arizona Coyotes on Oct. 7, the Golden Knights have played six straight at home. This will be their seventh straight.

Maybe they have surprised opponents who didn't know what to expect.

Even so, this is incredible.

Video: The guys discuss the Golden Knights' historic start

The Golden Knights were short on superstars. General manager George McPhee still took a long-term approach, trying to amass assets to build a Stanley Cup champion in the future rather than to put together the best possible roster to win now.

McPhee traded players like forward Marcus Kruger and defenseman Marc Methot. He sent defenseman Shea Theodore to Chicago of the American Hockey League because Theodore didn't have to pass through waivers so he could keep nine defensemen on the roster and continue to explore trades. Theodore has nine points (four goals, five assists) in six AHL games.

Vadim Shipachyov, who signed a two-year, $9 million contract as a free agent from the Kontinental Hockey League, was supposed to be the No. 1 center. He has struggled to adjust. He was assigned to the AHL, came back to score one goal in three games in the NHL and was assigned to the AHL again.

Fleury was spectacular for the first three games, then took an inadvertent knee to the head from Detroit Red Wings forward Anthony Mantha on Oct. 13. He stayed in the game, and the Golden Knights ended up blowing a 3-2 third-period lead and losing 6-3. Doctors later diagnosed a concussion.

In came Malcolm Subban, claimed off waivers from the Boston Bruins on Oct. 3. He had two games of NHL experience. He made 21 saves on 22 shots in a 3-1 win against his former team Oct. 15, then had 30 saves in a 5-4 overtime win against the Buffalo Sabres on Oct. 17. He had 37 saves on 38 shots against the St. Louis Blues on Saturday when he sustained a lower-body injury in the third period.

In came Oscar Dansk, called up from the AHL two days before. He had no NHL experience. He made 10 saves 11 shots to finish the 3-2 overtime win against the Blues, then had 29 saves in a 4-2 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday.

"[Fleury] was unreal," Perron said. "Subban was unreal. Dansk came in, he was really good."

The Golden Knights ranked third in goals-against per game (2.38) entering Thursday. They were supposed to struggle offensively but ranked eighth in the League in goals per game (3.38). They have 14 players with at least one goal and 21 with at least one point.

"What surprised me I think is our work ethic, the way we work all three periods," forward Jonathan Marchessault said. "We just do the right plays. We're all buying into the system. I think that's what's clicked."

Said McPhee, "They've played well as a team. It's what you would expect from guys that are getting a second or third chance to prove they can be real good players in this League, or their first chance that they're real good players in this League. Some of the situations that they found themselves in [elsewhere], there were just too many good players ahead of them. But that's not the case here, and it's been a real positive atmosphere."

The Golden Knights were third in combined save and shooting percentage (1038) and 29th in 5-on-5 shot attempt percentage (46.56), an indication they have been lucky without possessing the puck enough. After they play the Avalanche, eight of their next nine games, and 14 of their next 20, are on the road.

"I think the more we win and play our game, the more confidence that guys are going to get," coach Gerard Gallant said. "But we know we're going to have some tough spells."

They're the real deal because they know the real deal. They have "it" because they know it's just the beginning. That makes them all the more frightening.

"I think we've kind of proven ourselves with the first eight games," defenseman Brayden McNabb said. "Now going forward it's another test to see if we can maintain it. I know as a group we're accepting the challenge."

Video: Dansk makes 29 saves in Golden Knights' victory

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