The Golden Knights’ first half was historic. But can they maintain their success as they begin the second half of their inaugural NHL season?
By getting contributions from everyone, by playing a simple game and displaying resiliency, the Knights have won 29 of their first 41 games, have 60 points, lead the Pacific Division and have the best record in the Western Conference.
They also know they haven’t accomplished anything entering a 7 p.m. game Saturday against star center Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers at T-Mobile Arena.
“There’s a lot of hockey left to play,” coach Gerard Gallant said Friday after the team returned from its bye week for two 30-minute practices at City National Arena. “Why would we talk about the playoffs? We’re a long way from the playoffs.”
Last season, 94 points were enough to make the Western Conference playoffs. Using that number as a standard, the Knights would need 34 points in the next 41 games.
Nineteen of those games will be at T-Mobile Arena, where they have a league-best 18-2-1 record. They have built enough of a cushion that they probably could withstand a slump in the next three months.
“You don’t want to change anything,” defenseman Deryk Engelland said. “We’ve had great chemistry here going back to training camp, and that’s been a big part of our success.”
Forward James Neal, who was selected to the NHL All-Star game on Wednesday, said the team’s balance has allowed it to survive any major lulls.
“We’ve got four lines that play similar and have been productive,” Neal said. “If someone is struggling, the other guys pick him up.”
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, the Knights’ other All-Star, said the key to maintaining the first-half success is to not worry about the future.
“I think we have the right mindset to the way we approach games,” Fleury said. “Nobody is talking about too far down the road. We’re focusing on the next two points and playing hard night after night.”
Recent history shows that returning from the bye week might not be a good thing. Last season, the 30 NHL teams went a collective 10-16-4 in their first game back off the break.
“Yeah, everyone’s aware of it,” Engelland said. “That’s why you want to go out and play the way you’ve been playing.”
But there’s another number that should motivate the Knights on Saturday. That’s 8-2, the score of their Nov. 14 loss to the Oilers at Rogers Place.
“I think our guys remember that,” Gallant said. “We didn’t play well that night. The good thing was we came back two nights later and won in Vancouver and played a good game. I think we won five in a row.”
Defenseman Nate Schmidt said the Knights will be well aware of McDavid, who had two goals and an assist in the first meeting.
“I didn’t do a very good job with him, and he had his way with us,” Schmidt said. “It just makes this game that much more exciting for us, especially given the last time we played them. You can’t let him into those areas where he can make those plays. You’ve got to take away his time and space if you can.”
Who: Oilers vs. Golden Knights
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: T-Mobile Arena
TV: AT&T SportsNet (Cox 313/1313, DirecTV 684, CenturyLink 760/1760, U-verse 757/1757)
Radio: KRLV (98.9 FM, 1340 AM); ESPN Deportes (1460 AM)
Line: Not available
1. Avoid bye week blues. The Knights are coming off their bye week and well aware of what happened last season when just 10 of the NHL’s 30 teams won their first game back. Expect a strong effort.
2. Payback. The Knights’ worst loss and their only division setback was at Edmonton, 8-2 on Nov. 14. The Knights figure to have plenty of motivation.
3. Dealing with McDavid. NHL star Connor McDavid will test out T-Mobile Arena for the first time. The Knights must take away his time and space or face a long night. He had two goals and an assist Nov. 14.
7 p.m. Saturday, T-Mobile Arena
— The Skinny: The Oilers have been one of the NHL’s most disappointing team, after many predicted they would compete for the Stanley Cup title. Edmonton is sixth in the Pacific Division with 39 points (18-23-3).
— Top scorers: Center Connor McDavid leads the Oilers with 48 points (15 goals, 33 assists). Center Leon Draisaitl has 11 goals and 34 points, and center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has 15 goals and 30 points.
— Goaltender: Cam Talbot, 15-16-2, 3.09 goals-against average, .902 save percentage.
— Coach: Todd McLellan, third season, 96-92-20
— Founded: 1972. Joined NHL in 1979
— Last Stanley Cup: 1990
— Did you know: The Oilers’ five Stanley Cup championships over a seven-year span resulted in the team being granted “Dynasty” status by the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Steve Carp Review-Journal