When the Vegas Golden Knights selected their team in the expansion draft many, including myself, wondered why the team didn’t take a number of better players that were available at the time.
But they’ve proven everyone wrong through eight games, going 7-1-0 and currently hold the highest points percentage in the league. They are in uncharted territory for an expansion team, and have even started to get people legitimately discussing them as a playoff team, even though we’re maybe 10 percent of the way through the regular season.
Look at their odds of making the playoffs, according to some of the better hockey sites out there:
Money Puck: 54.63 percent
Sports Club Stats: 85.5 percent
Playoff Status: 78 percent
The Athletic: 34 percent
So as of right now, combining those four sites, they have a better than 50 percent chance of making the playoffs as an expansion team, which is virtually unheard of.
But can it last?
So far they have played 6 of 8 at home, meaning more road games are coming in the future, and just 3 of 8 games have been against teams that made the playoffs last season. But that means they’ve been beating bad teams, which good teams are supposed to do.
So far their goaltending and defense have led the way, with the team giving up just 2.38 goals per game, third best in the league behind the Kings and Senators. And that’s despite being down to their third-string goalie, who picked up a 4-2 win last night against Chicago after Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcom Subban both went down with injuries.
The team also boasts the third-best save percentage (.930) in the league despite those injuries, leading me to think that those numbers have to come back to earth soon. The league average so far is .911, so they are way above average despite using three different starting goalies, two of which have little to no previous NHL experience.
Another area that could be coming back to earth soon: their shooting percentage. Again, it is third in the league at 11.5 percent, which they have badly needed, because despite that high percentage they are tied for 12th in the league in total goals, and eighth in goals per game. This despite the team being 22nd in close-range shots (closer = higher scoring chance), with 48.28 percent of their shots coming from close range, according to NHL.com.
They also lack any serious depth on offense. James Neal has six goals to lead the team, but nobody else has more than three so far.
And the advanced stats aren’t kind to their long-term prospects. PDO, which combines a team’s save percentage and shooting percentage, lists the team at 104.3 (league average is 100), second best in the league. Typically over the course of the season things will level out back to league-average, meaning the Knights have been very lucky through eight games on both offense and defense.
A quick look at their Corsi and Fenwick numbers shows that they are in or near the top-half of the league in all situations. Corsi (All shot attempts), lists them at 51.9 (for every 100 shots they take 51.9, opponents take 48.1, giving them a 3.8 shot attempts per 100 average. See advanced stats aren’t so hard), good enough for eighth-best in the league so far. Fenwick (same idea as Corsi, just take out blocked shot attempts), at 49.4, good for 16th.
But those are at all situations, which takes into account power plays and short-handed opportunities. And at all even strength situations, the numbers tell another story.
At even strength their Corsi drops to 46.5, third worst in the league, and Fenwick is an identical 46.4, also third worst in the league. What this all means is that at even strength they are giving up an eight more shots than their opponents, which typically doesn’t bode well for long-term success.
But, the hot start means that they can have a cold stretch and remain in the thick of the playoff race. Personally, I don’t think they will make it, but with as weak as the Western Conference has been to start the year, I think they’ll be in the race for the playoffs far longer than anyone expected, and longer than a number of teams that many thought might be Stanley Cup contenders.