Golden Knights take pride in shocking NHL
It’s amazing what the Vegas Golden Knights have been able to accomplish so far, turning leftovers and table scraps into one of the most palatable expansion teams the National Hockey League has ever seen.
Here we are, nearly a quarter through the season, and hockey’s castoffs — despite what should have been a debilitating run of injuries in goal — still have a better record than most of the starstudded teams in the league.
“I just think the guys are hungry, they come to the rink ready to play every day and they’re having a lot of fun,” said head coach Gerard Gallant, a castoff himself, having been left on the curb by the Florida Panthers not that long ago.
“No player wants to be an expansion-list player, but I think once they got to Vegas, they realized how good it is. The facilities are unbelievable and they’re really happy there.
“The guys are really happy, and they’re competing and playing as a team.”
People imagine that playing in Las Vegas means living in a sea of neon lights, side-stepping drunken convention goers and off-duty strippers on your way to the morning skate.
It’s not. Most of the players reside in a pristine, affluent suburban paradise 30 minutes away.
“We don’t live downtown by any means,” said defenceman and former Oiler Brad Hunt. “We’re in a town called Summerlin. It’s beautiful. You have the Red Rock Canyons. It’s really nice.”
Google pictures of Summerlin and it looks like something from a movie. Google the standings and Vegas is right in the mix for a playoff spot.
It might have been tough on their pride when they were left unprotected by their former teams, but they’ve got something good going on here and they know it.
“We came in here with a chip on our shoulder to prove that our old team didn’t make the right decision and our new team did to pick us,” said winger David Perron, another former Oiler, who leads the team with 14 points. “I think we’re happy with the way it’s going, but we have a lot of work to go.
“The fun part is that we’re in a playoff spot, we’re fighting for it. We’re not out of the race by December, which was the prediction by a lot of people.”
The Knights attack with depth, boasting 13 players with seven or more points (the Oilers have five) before the puck dropped Tuesday at Rogers Place. Vegas has four defencemen with seven or more points (the Oilers have none).
“Everyone on the team wants to prove something,” said goaltender Maxime Legace. “The guys work very hard every night, the team effort is always there. The guys all came here with an open mind and you see that they want to win.”
They say the Knights are a very tight group, that the misfits have all come together to form their own clique that is demanding respect from everyone they play. That togetherness and team concept is an ingredient Gallant stressed every bit as much as skill, and it’s paying off.
“That’s a big part of my coaching, getting good, quality veterans,” said the coach. “Deryk Engelland is a name you bring up right off the bat. A character guy, a leader on our hockey team. We have a bunch of veteran players who are good guys and they bring the team together.”
It must be humbling for a lot of other organizations in the NHL that a team made up of their expendable parts got this good this quickly. It should also be a lesson to players that in hockey, skill alone isn’t enough. If the work ethic isn’t there, neither are the results.
“Their record surprises me a little bit when I go back to the traditional expansion type success,” said Oilers coach Todd McLellan. “But the people who run the program, GM George (McPhee) and assistant GM Kelly (McCrimmon), do a tremendous job of scouting. They spent a lot of time constructing the team.
“And I know Gerard Gallant really well, so between the three of them they’ve done a really good job of putting their team together and they’ve developed an identity a lot faster than any of the other expansion teams in the past.”
Edmonton Oilers Jesse Puljujarvi takes down Vegas Golden Knights Brad Hunt Tuesday night in Edmonton.