The ’12 Days of Christmas’ is a classic holiday song first published in its current form in 1908. In a nod to the classic carol, join The Hockey Writers as we count down the 12 Days of Hockeymas. Each day, we will provide you with a piece of hockey history as we eagerly await the start of the 2020-21 NHL season.
Within the Vegas Golden Knights’ magical 2017-18 expansion season, it’s fair to wonder: when did the team go from surprising upstarts to bona fide contenders? Perhaps it was their 12-3 postseason romp through three Western Conference foes to reach the Stanley Cup Final, but that would ignore a 109-point regular season. The 8-1 start to their existence, on the other hand, seems a tad too early.
A Red Hot Holiday Season
One galvanizing period worth considering is, appropriately, given the theme of this piece, the 2017 holiday season. As part of a remarkable month that saw the Golden Knights go from Dec. 2 to Jan. 4 without a regulation loss, the club set an expansion record by winning eight consecutive games (the previous record was six).
Book-ended by victories over Sidney Crosby and the back-to-back defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins and the league-leading Nashville Predators, Vegas collected 16 possible points in eight games, seven of which came against opponents who reached the postseason that year. Included in the unbeaten stretch was a 3-0 shutout of the eventual Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals and a 3-2 overtime win over the Los Angeles Kings in a clash atop the Pacific Division. Of those triumphs, five came by comfortable three-goal cushions.
From Good to Great
It isn’t like the Golden Knights weren’t good before the streak. On the eve of the Penguins game that began their run, they sported a 19-9-2 record that was good for second in the Pacific. In fact, they entered that contest coming off of a 3-2 shootout loss to the Carolina Hurricanes that, had it gone the other way, would have linked together 13 straight wins.
But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t room for improvement. Twenty days after the beginning of the streak, Vegas had built up a three-point division lead that they would never relinquish while also accumulating the second-most points – and second-best gambling odds – league-wide. More significantly, that stretch helped the club gel and come together in spite of so little familiarity.
“If we keep playing the kind of hockey we’re playing, we’re going to win a lot of hockey games,” said Gerard Gallant, the Golden Knights’ head coach at the time. “The guys are competing, playing hard and believing in themselves.”
The Streak in Context
If Vegas’ inaugural season needed any more padding to highlight its unlikeliness, the streak brought a whole other wave of factoids and trivia to further solidify their 2017-18 expansion campaign as something special. Consider that the organization managed in 38 games what the reigning Western Conference champion Dallas Stars haven’t achieved in 52 seasons (or 4,180 games), dating back to when they were the Minnesota North Stars. One more win would’ve matched the franchise-best win streak of the ‘Original Six’ Detroit Red Wings.
That the Golden Knights failed to win even three in a row for the remainder of the 2017-18 regular season should’ve offered some appreciation for the difficulty of what they had accomplished. But this past February, less than a month after the club brought in new head coach Pete DeBoer, Vegas turned the trick again. With another eight straight wins between Feb. 13-28, Vegas pushed themselves from the playoff bubble to the top of the Western Conference shortly before March’s mid-season hiatus.
There is so much history to marvel at from Vegas’ 2017-18 season that even something like a significant win streak seems to get lost in the shuffle. Still, that period in December 2017 (and slightly into January 2018) marks an incredible stretch within an even more incredible campaign.
I may be a Leafs fan at heart (I’ve witnessed their highs and lows first-hand as a Scotiabank Arena employee), but I’m also a veteran freelance sportswriter who loves a good story. And there’s been no better story in hockey over the past few years than the Vegas Golden Knights. I’m excited to be covering the NHL again on the Golden Knights’ beat.