JACKPOT: How The Golden Knights Went From Expansion Team To Holding All The Cards In The West
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JACKPOT: How The Golden Knights Went From Expansion Team To Holding All The Cards In The West

The NHL's 31st expansion team became the first team in modern US Sports to make the postseason in their inaugural season, and they now have their eyes set on the Stanley Cup.

JACKPOT: How The Golden Knights Went From Expansion Team To Holding All The Cards In The West

While the NHL has been dominated by the two-time defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins for the past few years, a challenger emerged from the most unlikely of places.

The Vegas Golden Knights, the league’s newest expansion franchise, started this NHL season with 200-1 odds to win the Stanley Cup, the lowest in the league.

Now this was not a surprise to most hockey fans, or even sports fans for that matter. Rarely do expansion teams have a winning season or even make the playoffs, let alone win the Stanley Cup.

In fact, no expansion team in the four major sports in the United States (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL) had finished with a winning record in their first season.

Vegas however managed to count their cards correctly and assembled a squad that, while lacking star power, was incredibly balanced. The team goes with a standard four-line approach, but they do not consider matchups too much. As a result, most of the players play relatively the same amount of time on the ice, keeping them healthy.

This differs from the traditional route of having stars players in the first and second lines, while switching to the third and fourth lines later on with less-talented players to give the stars a rest. With Vegas’ approach though, the internal balance of the lines allows them to have much better matchups when teams are resting their stars.

These mismatches allow Vegas to compete with teams that have much more star power, and this is not the first example of third and fourth-line mismatches in recent years. If you look at the success of the Penguins the past few years, one of the reasons they were so dominant was because of their third line of Nick Bonino, Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin (aka the HBK Line).

While most teams were resting their stars from the first and second lines, Pittsburgh would use the speed of Hagelin alongside the scoring potential from Kessel to score easily, and it was a major reason they are back-to-back defending Stanley Cup Champions.

While the Golden Knights do not have that kind of star power on their third and fourth lines like the Penguins did, all of them being equally good and rotating constantly. As a result, it keeps players fresh and ready to go.

Vegas does have one thing though that the Penguins did have during those championships: their former goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. The Golden Knights took him with the first pick in the expansion draft, and he did not disappoint. Fleury posted career bests in both save-percentage (.927) and GAA (2.24).

One of the big reasons as well for the career highs for Fleury though is the defensive rotations that Vegas has. None of their players are on the level of defensive stars like P.K. Subban or Kris Letang, but none of them are forced to play super long stretches like these players. Having that fresh rotation keeps defenseman fresh and makes it much easier on their goalie, especially when its one as good as Fleury.

Finally, there is the finishing touch that fully completes the team: Head Coach Gerard Gallant. The former Florida Panthers coach was fired last season after a road game against the Carolina Hurricanes. Realizing that he did not have the star-power at his disposal, he decided that Vegas would be unique in how they approached the game.

Instead of narrowing in on what other teams do well, the coach instead allows his players to play free and loose, taking the game into their hands. Because of this move, many players that were stuck behind people on other teams broke out and had career seasons.

The best example is former Columbus Blue Jackets player William “Wild Bill” Karlsson, who was neck and neck with Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin to lead the league in goals this season. While Ovechkin did lead the league in goals this season with 49, Karlsson finished in third with 43 and posted the highest plus-minus total in the league with 49, which is 13 points higher than the next man on the list: teammate Jonathan Marchesssault.

With all the pieces and their playstyle together, the Golden Knights cruised to a first-place finish in the Pacific Division and the fourth-best record in the NHL and earned them a first-round playoff matchup with the Los Angeles Kings and star goaltender Jonathan Quick.

The Knights made quick work of the former Stanley Cup Champions from a few years ago and stifled their offensive attack the entire series to result in a 4-0 sweep. What is more impressive though is that Quick had about a good of a series as one could ask from a goaltender. The Kings superstar posted a .947 save percentage and only allowed seven goals in all four games. Those stats are pretty good considering the Penguins just smashed the Philadelphia Flyers for eight goals in a single game to win the final game of that series. Vegas was simply better in that series though, and only allowed three goals of their own.

With the win over the Kings, the Golden Knights look toward perennial Western Conference powerhouse San Jose, who are just two years removed from playing in the Stanley Cup. The team still has work to do in order to become the first expansion team to win a championship, but with a team like this, it is quite possible that they can hit the jackpot.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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