The upcoming schedule for the Vegas Golden Knights will show what this team is truly made of. On paper, this team is a surefire Stanley Cup Contender. But on the ice, they have not acted like one as the VGK have lost six of their last nine games.
They took a step in the right direction Friday night against the Anaheim Ducks with a 5-4 win, but this year’s Golden Knights team looks less dominant than teams in years past, despite arguably having a better overall roster in many facets.
A History of First Place Finishes
The Golden Knights have finished first in their division/conference three times in team history amidst two COVID-19 shortened seasons. The only time in which they did not finish first came in the 2018-19 season when took third in the Pacific Division.
In what may or may not be a coincidence, the only year in which the Golden Knights have not won a playoff series came in that season as well. They lost to the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in seven games.
Just Make the Playoffs
In reality, there is no rule on teams making it far in the playoffs having to place first in their division in the regular season. The exact opposite tends to happen in the NHL as a matter of fact. The last team to win their division and also win the Stanley Cup were the Washington Capitals in 2018.
The last team to win the President’s Trophy and also win the Cup was the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013. Even then, that season was shortened due to the lockout. So for a full 82-game season, you have to go back to the 2008 Detroit Red Wings.
Golden Knights head coach Peter DeBoer has made the Stanley Cup Finals twice in his career. Both times he did so with two teams that did not finish first in their division.
My point here is that the playoffs are a different beast, and for the Vegas Golden Knights, their best course of action is to simply make the playoffs in the first place, as anything can happen.
A Look at the Pacific Division Playoff Picture
Right now the Golden Knights are third in the Pacific Divison standings and 14th overall in the NHL. They trail the high-flying Calgary Flames by five points, who also have three games at hand. It looks likely that the Flames will end up winning the Pacific Division standings thanks to their recent ten-game winning streak.
Next, come the Los Angeles Kings who have played the same amount of games as the Golden Knights and sit in second with just one more point than the VGK. In the hunt are also the Edmonton Oilers who have two fewer points than the Golden Knights with one game at hand, and the Anaheim Ducks who trail by three points but have played one more game than the Golden Knights.
The Vancouver Canucks are six points behind the Golden Knights and the Sharks are 12 behind. Both are likely out of the race, but anything can happen in the wide-open Pacific Division.
Western Wild Card
If the Golden Knights fall out of a Pacific Divison playoff spot they will have three other teams to battle with for a Wild Card position in the Western Conference.
The Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators both have two games at hand over the Golden Knights with the Stars trailing by one point and the Predators by two. The Winnipeg Jets are also a dark horse candidate with eight fewer points in the standings but with one game at hand.
It seems as if the Golden Knights only having four canceled games in December/January due to COVID has come back to bite them as nearly every Western Conference team now has games at hand.
Home ice has been a cure for the Golden Knights this season. Perhaps the Golden Knights may not want the top seed in a playoff series to start the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
A Look At The Upcoming Schedule
There might not be a better time than now for the Golden Knights to go on a run. This month they will play 16 games in 31 days and have 29 games in 60 days to finish out the 2021-22 regular season.
The next five games could have the Golden Knights licking their chops as they take on four weaker opponents in five games. Not only this but they play four games on the road, which is where the Golden Knights have been better overall this season in terms of a record.
They start Sunday afternoon against the Ottawa Senators with a 5:00 pm matchup at T-Mobile against a 19-win rebuilding group. They then hit the road to play the Philadelphia Flyers who have had a trainwreck of a season for a 4:00 pm game on Tuesday.
Jack Eichel then returns to Buffalo on Thursday night as the Golden Knights take on the Buffalo Sabres. A tough game against the Pittsburgh Penguins awaits the night after, but then a matchup against the Columbus Blue Jackets follows that Sunday.
Something To Play For
These recent struggles for the Golden Knights are not ideal. But they have given the team something to play for. They are not sitting comfortably atop the league’s standings like the Colorado Avalanche or Florida Panthers who are just waiting for the playoffs to start.
They will have to grind all the way to the final game of the regular season to battle for playoff positing, and this mindset could carry over into the playoffs and make the Golden Knights a dangerous team.