Expectations are a funny thing in sports especially with a franchise that is still young like the Vegas Golden Knights. Since the magical inaugural season cup run, Vegas has quickly become a legitimate Stanley Cup contender each of their young 4 season history and this one is no different.
Vegas came in to the modified shortened season as a top favorite for the West division amongst the powerhouse of the Colorado Avalanche and the St. Louis Blues. While Colorado is getting the most love from the majority of those involved in hockey as the sure fire cup favorite, there is a strong argument that Vegas may just be the team to beat this year.
Colorado and Vegas are going toe to toe right now in the West with St. Louis breathing down their neck. While the standings may show differently as of right now, one must keep in mind that winning percentage may become the key to playoff seeding with COVID causing havoc on games played. Also of note, St. Louis has been able to get more games in to date with 15. All three have already seen the effects with postponements of games and there truly is no guarantee those games will be completely made up by season’s end to make the 56 game mark. With that said, Vegas is running ahead of the pack in that department with a stellar .792% followed by Colorado at .682% and St. Louis with .662% – no real surprises.
Overall Colorado and Vegas appear to be the class of the division and while that may seem like a shot at St. Louis, its not. St. Louis is about as much of a playoff lock as there is but the Blues have struggled at times throughout the start of the season. Just look at the the current battles they are in with the Arizona Coyotes and losing out on 7 of 12 points so far in the 6 games played. For Colorado, outside of an early 8-0 win over St. Louis and a 5-1 win recently over the Minnesota Wild they haven’t been blowing over the competition but are locking up the points they need to be a top team.
For Vegas, outside of 2 games, they are dominating their opponents at just about every aspect. When they have the hiccup on defense or need to hold back a charge, the absolute stellar goaltending of Marc-Andre Fleury has been there to shut down the door. This team is also one of the most dangerous teams we have seen in the third period and outside of a 1-0 stinker against the Anaheim Ducks, they have shown even being down in a game that they are more than likely going to win in the end.
Vegas is getting terrific point production spread deep throughout their lineup with Captain Mark Stone leading the way. With already 16 points under his belt through 12 games, he is a leader in far more ways than just wearing the “C”. Max Pacioretty continues to lead the team in goals while Jonathan Marchessault and Alex Tuch have returned to form. Add in one of the best offensive defensive threats in the game with Shea Theodore producing and Vegas is a threat from all sides. Chandler Stephenson has been found money in his production and ability to play big moments on the top line while William Karlsson is anchoring the second line with Marchessault and Riley Smith. There are still 7 other players on the roster who have put up multiple points so far in the season. Only two players so far have yet to hit the score sheet for the club with both not being consistent starters so far this season. On the defensive side, with the largest improvements from prior season have seen Alex Pietrangelo provide immediate dividends who along with Theodore and Alec Martinez have created a solid defensive anchor. This has also given players like rookie Zach Whitecloud the chance to build and strengthen their game.
With the next 4 games all against Colorado, these games are going to be a huge test for both teams. If Vegas continues their play and grabs the majority of points out of the available 8 without surrendering to many of the “4 point game” ones in return to Colorado then Vegas is going to fly to the top of the standings overall. If they can get Riley Smith rolling and also get Robin Lehner back on track performing how he has previously and drive the powerplay up to where it should truly be, Vegas will be the team to beat from the West. Even with Colorado’s powerhouse of forwards and defense, they simply cannot match a goaltending tandem running at optimal power that Vegas has. Add in the other pieces trending up and look out.