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Golden Knights have golden touch, continue historic start

Expansion team ends homestand with fifth straight win

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

LAS VEGAS -- Gerard Gallant chuckled at the question. 

Before the Vegas Golden Knights played the Colorado Avalanche at T-Mobile Arena on Friday, he was asked if they had to stay hungry coming off wins against the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks.

"No," the coach said. "Not at all. I mean, we started … We're the 31st team. We're an expansion team. Everybody's better than us."

 

[RELATED: Golden Knights score seven against Avalanche, win fifth in row]

 

An hour later, the Golden Knights showed they still had an underdog attitude, though not necessarily underdog talent. 

They won 7-0. They kept working, kept scoring, kept pouring it on in front of 17,702 fans chanting "Go Knights go!" after each goal and giving a standing ovation at the end to the tune of Elvis Presley's "Viva Las Vegas."

The Golden Knights might be an expansion team, but everybody is not better than them. Nobody is better than them right now, actually. They are 8-1-0 and have the best record in the NHL in terms of points percentage (.889). They are the first team to win eight of its first nine games in its inaugural season in the NHL's 100-year history.

To put this in perspective, consider that since the Philadelphia Flyers and Los Angeles Kings reached eight wins in 17 games in 1967-68, no team had reached eight in fewer in its inaugural season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The 1974-75 Washington Capitals won eight games total.

The Golden Knights also are on a five-game winning streak, matching the 1926-27 New York Rangers and 1979-80 Edmonton Oilers for the longest at any point in an inaugural season.

Video: COL@VGK: Neal scores on deflection from the slot

You have to wonder: Can this team make the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

"Yeah," defenseman Luca Sbisa said. "Hundred percent. Obviously it's early in the season and we know things are going well, and we're self-aware that we've got to keep going to keep doing what we've been doing to kind of have a chance at the playoffs. But that was our mindset from day one."

The Golden Knights benefited from expansion draft rules designed to make them more competitive than past expansion teams; from a favorable early schedule with two road games back to back and then seven straight home games spaced out; and maybe from opponents who didn't know what to expect.

"We have definitely the home-ice advantage of, 'What is Vegas?' " defenseman Nate Schmidt said.

This is not going to last. Nobody has kept up this pace for a full season. The NHL record for points percentage is .875, held by the 1929-30 Boston Bruins, who played 44 games. The best points percentage for a team that played at least 80 games is .825 by the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens.

Video: COL@VGK: Lindberg's terrific effort leads to goal

These are not the 1976-77 Canadiens. The Golden Knights are one of the worst possession teams in the NHL. They were outshot 18-7 by the Avalanche before the first goal Friday. What they are is hot. Odds are they will cool off, perhaps soon.

Their next six games are on the road. They visit the New York Islanders and Rangers back to back, take a day off, visit the Bruins, take a day off, visit the Ottawa Senators, take a day off, and then visit the Toronto Maple Leafs and Canadiens back to back. And those teams have TVs and internet access.

"I think that the surprise factor might wear off here pretty quick," Schmidt said with a laugh.

But general manager George McPhee drafted high-character players with something to prove and hired a coach known for getting his players to go hard. They have won despite McPhee focusing on winning the Stanley Cup someday instead of putting together the best lineup to win now, despite center Vadim Shipachyov struggling to adjust, despite injuries to goaltenders Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban.

A team with no superstars had seven players score and 11 get a point against the Avalanche. Third-string goaltender Oscar Dansk played his third NHL game, made his second NHL start and earned his first NHL shutout.

Video: COL@VGK: Perron roofs backhand for breakaway goal

This said it all: Right wing James Neal, a goal-scorer in a contract year, took a stick on the face in the first period and went off for repairs. Yet with Vegas leading by seven with three minutes to go in the third, he blocked a shot, broke his stick, scrambled across the zone and dived trying to block another.

"They weren't trying to embarrass anybody with the score," Gallant said. "But they were trying to play a complete game."

Read that again: An expansion team wasn't trying to embarrass anybody with the score.

Even if the Golden Knights go 0-6-0 on their upcoming trip, they will have a winning record when they return. They will be ahead of where most people thought they would be. These points are in the bank.

Maybe we should wonder: Can this team miss the playoffs?

According to Elias, only two teams have earned 16 points in their first nine games and missed: the 1986-87 Pittsburgh Penguins and 2015-16 Canadiens.

"Guys are pretty confident," Gallant said. "They feel good about themselves right now. So we've just got to keep working hard, and hopefully the next game we'll win again."

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