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They’re still not white hot. But they’re getting there. The Vegas Golden Knights have turned the burner to medium and are poised to flip it to high.
The club has put together its best 10-game span of the campaign with a 7-2-1 record. That’s the best run of 10 since they went 9-1 last season immediately after acquiring winger Mark Stone.
The club finds itself sitting third in the Pacific Division prior to any action Tuesday. Vegas has won three of its last four and two of them were of the blowout variety. The second period in Sunday’s 6-3 victory over the Vancouver Canucks was one of the most dominant periods the club has played. They were physical, smart and opportunistic. For a VGKer, fan, coach, player or manager, it was simply fun hockey of which to be a part.
The question now for the Golden Knights and their fans is can they go to the next level? Can they go on a spurt which puts them among the elite of the NHL? There are some signs which say they can.
One of the factors dragging Vegas down early was the club’s inability to earn points in games when Marc-Andre Fleury wasn’t in net. And the team’s reliance on him threatened to leave him spent at the regular season finish line.
The resurgence of Malcolm Subban has dramatically helped Vegas as he’s won five of his last seven starts and gained standings points in six of those games.
Having a second goalie who provides wins gives the coaching staff the opportunity to trim some of Fleury’s workload.
Up until November 23, Fleury led the league in games played (20) and was 2nd in TOI (1159:00). Since then, Fleury is 47th in GP and 49th in TOI. Fleury has gone from being on pace to play 66 games to being on pace to play 52 games.
Offense from defense
Production from the backend was a worry for Vegas early on but of late, the blueline has been redlining on offense.
In October, Vegas ranked 30 of 31 teams in production from defensemen with 17 points. Since then the team is up to 18th with 39 points since November 1. Nate Schmidt’s return from injury has boosted this number and Shea Theodore piled up five assists just last week.
Gerard Gallant likes his team to play hard but clean hockey. Be physical but stay out of the penalty box. For much of his tenure in Vegas the club has been one of the least penalized teams in the NHL.
To begin this season, however, the team consistently took too many penalties.
The last 10 games has seen the team take 2.63 penalties per 60 min at 5v5. Prior to that, Vegas was at 3.73 penalties per 60 mins at 5v5. That’s a big reduction and key in that mix is defenseman Brayden McNabb who was averaging 1.2 PIM/game in the first 25 games but is down to 0.18 PIM/game over the last 11 games.
Max Pacioretty has been excellent and his 34 points in 36 games to start the season is the most he’s had in any season in his career (over the first 36 games played). His previous high was 32 points in his first 36 games in 2012-13. It’s also the highest points in a 36-game stretch since his 2016-2017 season, when he posted a high of 37 points in 36 games.
Scoring from everywhere
The Golden Knights have gotten goals from Ryan Reaves, Valentin Zykov, Nick Holden, Deryk Engelland and Chandler Stephenson of late and depth scoring is always great. But as the saying goes, “your best players have to be your best players” and that’s been happening for Vegas.
In December, the Golden Knights have 44 points in eight games from the club’s seven highest paid forwards (5.5 points/game). In 14 games in November, those same seven players produced just 52 points (3.7 points/game).
More from Marchessault
Jonathan Marchessault has five goals in his last seven games. On Sunday, Marchessault scored his 100th regular season NHL goal and became the 128th undrafted player to debut since 1963-64 and score 100+ career regular-season goals. In contrast, 813 drafted players have turned the trick since the league’s inaugural draft.