After the NHL expansion draft was held last June, if you had told me that the (Las) Vegas Golden Nights would be one of the better teams in the league with 19 points and second in the Pacific division, I would have scoffed at the idea. However, now a month into the NHL season, many have branded Vegas’ miraculous run of form as legitimate. In this article, I’ll be looking into the Golden Knights to see exactly whether their success correlates with observations.
Corsi For % betrays the results
Vegas ranks in at 25th in the league in Corsi for at 48% even, which isn’t good considering this puts them on par with Arizona and the Florida Panthers, both of which are not good teams. Additionally, Vegas rank 24th when filtering out unblocked shot attempts. Yet, despite this, the team is winning most of their games (9 wins out of 15). Usually, when teams win despite relatively poor Corsi percentage, this means that they are either getting very lucky, or they are making up for it with shooting percentage and quality. Team wise, Vegas are shooting at 9.4%, 9th highest in the league, and Vegas’ team leader is Oscar Lindberg at 23.8%, and James Neal leads the team in goals (with 8) and is shooting at 19%. For comparison, Sidney Crosby lead the league in goals last season and shot at 17.3%. This data may look good for Vegas, but generally players (and teams) who shoot the puck more have lower shooting percentages because the number of shots drags the percentage down. In fact, Vegas are one of the worst teams in shooting the puck. They rank 26th in shots per game and generally allow more shots then they take. Vegas, so far, have not had any wide-margin losses, so this would point to pure luck more than anything else as an explanation.
An unmeasurable factor?
Perhaps the first few wins for the Knights were due to luck, but as seen throughout NHL history, teams can be streaky, and ride the wave of their own success. I think more than anything this is what Vegas is doing. Because they are a new franchise and have started off strong, their confidence has increased thereof, and this isn’t something statistics can measure. Watching them play, it is most definitely noticeable how this team have come together and created chemistry. Though, perhaps this could also be their downfall. As Charlie O’Connor (@charlieo_conn) from the Athletic recently commented on a radio show, Vegas is “believing in their own hype.” This is clearly displayed in their handling of a presumably good player, Vadim Shipachyov, whom they sent down to the AHL as not to damage the team’s current roster despite Shipachyov being a better player arguably than some on the roster (not to mention he was promised first line minutes).
A Final Verdict?
In my opinion, given the trends in the statistics, Vegas are destined to fall off in the near future keeping in mind their weak roster and goaltending shuffle. Perhaps they will be boosted by the eventual return of Marc-Andre Fleury to net, though I don’t know if he alone can keep Vegas at a sustainable playoff level as they are currently managing. Additionally, I cannot see Calgary, Anaheim, San Jose, or Edmonton continuing to play at an average to sub-par level. With the best player in hockey (to some) in Connor McDavid, the Oilers are bound to start winning games, and talent loaded youthful Calgary (plus ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr) should also make the playoffs. Anaheim however, are dealing with a number of injuries and San Jose lost a valuable forward in Patrick Marleau to the Maple Leafs, so those teams’ chances are more in the balance. Overall, however, these 4 teams are better than Vegas, and while they currently surge on in the standings, come a few months’ time, this should change.
Photo Courtesy of Bari D