Having reached the stage in the season where "too early" makes way for a time to genuinely hope or be concerned with the state of your team, we find the Vegas Golden Knights in the midst of an unprecedented run that sees them with a 15-7-1 record and two points ahead of the Los Angeles Kings for the top spot in the Pacific Division.
The Golden Knights have put the proverbial pen to paper and have inked a story so unbelievable that Disney would reject the script, considering it too unrealistic even by their feel-good Mighty Ducks standards.
This early-season success has put the Golden Knights in a position not many expansion teams have managed in their inaugural season.
They have done it under the leadership of a man remembered for his worst trade. A coach remembered for a cab ride. Cast-off defenseman, who had been the scapegoat of their previous team’s fan base. A mix of untested, unproven prospects and above average but not elite veterans. Oh, and five goalies.
We have also now reached the part of the season where statistics, even the advanced ones, start to take on a sample size that can show us real projectable trends and not simply random noise.
Yes, a player can come around or regress still. There is plenty of time for that. And the team might not play at their current pace for the rest of the season. But we've passed the point where playing well can be dismissed as just luck, or "just a hot streak,” and we can begin to consider the possibilities going forward through the rest of the season.
(All stats are current from the time of this writing on Thursday, Nov. 30)
Team Leader in Goals: William Karlsson (13)
Team Leader in Assists: Jonathan Marchessault, David Perron and Reilly Smith (13)
Team Leader in Points: Karlsson (22)
Team Leader in Wins: Maxime Lagace (5)
Team Leader in Save Percentage: Oscar Dansk (.946)
It has been a true coming out party for William Karlsson this season. With 13 goals, Karlsson sits ninth in the NHL ahead of names such as Vladimir Tarasenko, Tyler Seguin, Auston Matthews and teammate James Neal (12).
In goal, the Golden Knights have two goalies (Dansk and Subban) in the top seven in save percentage, though with only four and five games played, respectively, they probably won’t find their names in the Vezina conversation just yet.
Possession Metrics (5-on-5)
Corsi-For percentage (CF%): Marchessault leads all forwards (55.25), and Colin Miller sits top among defensemen (54.28).
Corsi-For relative (CF% rel): Marchessault (6.41) and Miller (6.12) also lead the team in this statistic.
Corsi Against per 60 (CA/60): Miller, unsurprisingly, continues to be very effective in this category and has shown the level of play and shot suppression the analytic community has been raving about with his 46.64 CA/60. Alex Tuch leads the forward group at 52.11. It should also be noted that Brad Hunt is second on the team with a 48.39 CA/60.
Goals For per 60 (GF/60): Karlsson leads the forward group for the Golden Knights with a 3.45 GF/60 and Brayden McNabb leads the defense with a 3.32.
Goals Against per 60 (GA/60): Alex Tuch is the teams lowest scored-against forward (per 60 minutes of ice time) at 1.36 GA/60. McNabb leads the defense in this category (1.66) sitting, somewhat surprisingly, just above Deryk Engelland (1.82).
Team Stats and Metrics (5-on-5)
CF% 50.02 (16th)
CA/60 56.4 (13th)
Goals For: 52 (9th)
PDO: 100.26 (11th)
I would be remiss if not to also mention that the Golden Knights presently have a team shooting percentage of 11.3. If this seems high, it’s because it is. Perhaps unsustainably so. The top team in 2016-17 (Washington) shot at a clip of 10.46 and they had the kind of elite offensive talent the Golden Knights, for all their hard work and relentlessness, cannot match.
It is unlikely that they will continue shooting at a clip rivaled only by the 2012-13 (lockout shortened) Toronto Maple Leafs (who still only shot at 11.47%) over the remaining 59 games.
Team Stats (other)
Goals For Per Game: 3.52 (3rd)
Goals Against Per Game: 2.96 (14th)
Powerplay Percentage: 20.5% (15th)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 79.7 (17th)
Team Save Percentage: .901 (23rd)
Though, if we’re being fair, the team save percentage is tanked by the 13 games played by Lagace and Dylan Ferguson, who combined for an .867 save percentage (though also a solid enough 5-5-1 record, all attributed to Lagace). In the early season, before injuries ravaged the Golden Knights, it would be fair to say goaltending was their strongest aspect of the game with Marc-Andre Fleury, Dansk and Subban, who have combined for a .932 SV% this season.
It should also be mentioned that despite being 15th in Corsi Against per game, they rank 5th in shots on goal against per game (30).
From all of this we can see what have been the pillars for the Golden Knights success.
Great coaching. It cannot be said enough. Gerard Gallant has done wonders with this team — and a style of play predicated on sustained pressure and a relentless forecheck. But also unsustainable offensive production, an average defense and surprisingly good (and also bad) team goaltending.
As far as positives go, when the Golden Knights fall back to earth in terms of scoring, it does not have to mean they will begin to lose. As mentioned, when they get healthy again, we have every reason to believe they will have above average goaltending, which might counter-balance the loss of offensive production.
In 2016-17, it took the Nashville Predators and Calgary Flames just 94 points to make the playoffs in the Western Conference’s wild card spots. With 31 points in their first 23 games, the Golden Knights have given themselves a very realistic shot at hitting that total.
We knew we would be witnessing history this season. Can’t say that many thought it would include the team’s first playoff race.
(Numbers courtesy of Corsica, Hockey Reference, and NHL.com)