Updated April 25, 2021 - 1:07 pm
The state of California might want to close up its border to the Golden Knights.
At this rate, that might be the only way one of the state’s three NHL teams can avoid a loss against their neighbor. The Knights have dominated their California competition in the West Division. It’s one reason why they sport the best record in the league at 34-11-2.
They wrapped up their season series with the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday with a 5-1 win. The Knights finished with a 7-1 record against the Ducks, and they went 6-2 against the Los Angeles Kings. They have one game left against the San Jose Sharks, but they hold a 7-0 edge in that series.
“We have the right mindset,” center William Karlsson said. “There’s no days off, really. I am impressed how we’ve been able to maintain that mindset, especially now when you play teams like this, Anaheim, that have nothing play for. Maybe it’s not the most fun games, but it’s still two points and we’re battling for that first place.”
It’s not a surprise the Knights are better than the three California teams. They have been considered a Stanley Cup contender all year, while it would have been a surprise if the Ducks, Kings or Sharks made the playoffs.
The level of domination is still impressive. The NHL is a parity-driven league where it’s often difficult to gain separation in the standings. Even last season, when the Kings had the NHL’s fourth worst-record, they were 3-1 against the Knights.
The Knights have had no such slip-ups against lesser foes this season. They’ve outscored the California teams by 40 goals in 23 games. The Knights have also won seven straight against the trio. Six of those were by multiple goals.
It would’ve been easy for the team to have an off night or two in the middle of a condensed schedule against a weaker opponent. But to the Knights’ credit, that’s hardly happened this year.
“We’ve got some guys that have been around a long time,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “I think for us, a lot of guys having been there understand you’re trying to build, right? You’re trying to build to get to the best possible point here going into the playoffs. So for us, I know we’ve clinched, but we still feel like throughout games, it’s trying to keep that focus, continue to build and continue to get to our game consistently where we feel comfortable here going into the playoffs.”
Here are three more takeaways from the win:
1. Early strike
Center Chandler Stephenson scored 28 seconds into Saturday’s contest, giving him the Knights’ fastest goal of the season to start a game.
Stephenson finished with two goals and an assist for the first three-point night of his career. It was also his third career two-goal game and second with the Knights.
Stephenson has set career highs in goals (12), assists (17) and points (29) in his first full season with the team after being traded from the Washington Capitals.
“I couldn’t have been thrown a better opportunity,” Stephenson said. “I just have played my game and the team and everybody has made me feel part of the team right away and welcomed me with open arms. It’s one of the best things that’s happened in my career for sure.”
2. Theodore in Norris conversation
Defenseman Shea Theodore had a goal and an assist Saturday to become the fourth defenseman to score 40 points.
Theodore is just behind the New York Rangers’ Adam Fox (43 points), Washington’s John Carlson (42 points) and Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman (42 points) for the scoring lead among blue liners. He’s played the fewest games and averages the least ice time among the quartet, but has the best five-on-five rating at plus-23.
Theodore was asked after the game if he thought he had a shot to win the Norris Trophy and answered “I don’t know.” Pietrangelo piped in and said, “You can say yes.”
3. Carrier scores
Left wing William Carrier scored his fifth goal 6:12 into the second period off a pass from Pietrangelo.
Carrier and the rest of the fourth line struggled to produce early in the year. He didn’t have a goal after 23 games. He’s been producing a lot more lately, with 10 points in his last 20 games.