ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Golden Knights in first place? At Thanksgiving?
Unfathomable as it may seem, the NHL expansion team could occupy the top spot in the Pacific Division with a win Wednesday at Anaheim. The Knights trail Los Angeles by a point after Sunday’s 4-2 win over the Kings, who host Winnipeg on Wednesday.
A win over the Ducks, coupled with a Kings loss to the Jets, would give the Knights the lead in the division. A single point against Anaheim, along with an L.A. loss, will pull the Knights into a tie.
“I think you don’t look at the standings,” defenseman Deryk Engelland said Tuesday after practice at City National Arena. “You want to win every game. Once you get caught up in the standings, things can take a turn for the worse. So we’re just focusing on Anaheim.”
The Ducks, who were picked by many to win the division, have been slowed by injuries. Still, Anaheim is riding a three-game winning streak heading into the game at Honda Center.
The Knights have approached their early-season success by looking at the big picture rather than a snapshot of the first seven weeks. Center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said the next three games, all against divisional foes — versus San Jose on Friday and at Arizona on Saturday — is far more important than worrying about first place in late November.
“These are four-point games,” he said. “I’m not worried as much about first place as I am coming out of their barn with two points.”
Still, for the Knights to be 12-6-1 with 25 points, is something even the most zealous fan couldn’t have imagined. There’s playoff talk being bandied about around T-Mobile Arena, and fans are showing up in droves for practice at City National Arena, from toddlers to grandmothers, all decked out in Knights gear.
“When you’re winning and having success, everything is fun,” defenseman Nate Schmidt said. “You look forward to coming to the rink and being in the room with the guys.
“I think what winning has done for us is it has allowed our chemistry to grow quicker and made us a stronger team. Everyone feels like they’re in it together.”
Coach Gerard Gallant said the team’s balance has been responsible for their position in the standings. Opposing coaches have figured out that the Knights are tough to match up against. That works to Gallant’s advantage because he doesn’t worry much about matching lines. He just rolls his three-man units out and expects a 200-foot game from each trio.
“If we’re going to have any success, and we talk about it all the time, it has to be a team effort,” Gallant said. “We’re not going to have any one line or any one D carry us. It’s got to be 20, 23 guys in the room or we’re not going to win many games.
“But credit the players. They’ve bought in from the start. They’ve worked together and everyone’s contributing.”
Like his players. Gallant isn’t worried about first place.
“I’m not even thinking about it,” he said. “I’m just focused on trying to get two points in Anaheim.”
■ Who: Golden Knights vs. Ducks
■ When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
■ Where: Honda Center, Anaheim, California
■ TV: AT&T SportsNet (Cox 313/1313, DirecTV 684, CenturyLink 760/1760, U-verse 757/1757)
■ Radio: KRLV (98.9 FM, 1340 AM)
■ Line: Ducks minus-155; Total 6 under 120
Three storylines to follow:
1. Playing for first. With a win Wednesday, the Golden Knights would be in first place in the Pacific Division at Thanksgiving. Let that sink in for a moment. Even a single point vs. the Ducks will give the Knights a share of the division lead with the Kings.
2. Belly up and at ’em: Knights center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was obviously playing hurt Sunday in the win over the Kings. He practiced Tuesday, said he’s fine and he’ll play against Anaheim. He’s important to have in the lineup. He wins faceoffs, kills penalties and centers a line that rarely has a bad shift.
3. The Ducks are flying higher. Anaheim has won three straight and four of their last five. The Ducks are starting to get some of their injured players back. However, they’re still without three key pieces in Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler and Patrick Eaves. They’re in fourth place with 23 points, just two behind the Knights. However they’re only 6-5-2 at home.
Steve Carp Las Vegas Review-Journal