It has been an up and down season for the Vegas Golden Knights. In mid-January, they were sitting outside of a playoff spot in the Western Conference, and as of the NHL pause, they have a three-point cushion at the top of the Pacific Division.
While we wait for the season to resume, let’s take a look at some of the best and worst moments from the Golden Knights’ season so far.
The Worst: An Early Losing Streak, Gerard Gallant Fired
There have been tough moments for the team throughout the 2019-20 NHL season. It is difficult to pick from the lowest, but there are a couple that stand out:
November 16th: 4-3 Loss to LA Kings
At the time, the Golden Knights had lost four in a row and six of their last seven. They were 5th in the Pacific and on the outside of the playoff hunt.
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After their fourth loss, at home to the struggling Chicago Blackhawks, the Knights traveled to Los Angeles to face the NHL’s worst Kings. It was a demoralizing game. Vegas battled back from a 3-1 deficit to tie the game, only to give up the game-winning goal in the third period to a Jeff Carter tip-in.
The loss exposed weaknesses in the Golden Knights’ special teams, and their backup goaltending. Vegas was 0 for 3 on the power play and gave up a shorthanded goal while the Kings converted on one of two power plays. Backup goaltender Malcolm Subban gave up four goals on 25 shots.
Any time the confidence is down, it seems like every chance against ends up in the back of your net, but we got to fight through it,Max Pacioretty postgame via ESPN.
The loss to the worst team in the NHL increased the Knights’ losing streak to five games, their longest of the season.
January 15th: Firing Gerard Gallant
The lowest point of the Golden Knights’ season was when the front office decided to fire head coach Gerard Gallant, and hire Peter DeBoer as his replacement.
Gallant was relieved of his duties one day after the Knights suffered a 4-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Jan. 14, their fourth loss in a row.
Knights fans were shocked, and many were upset with how the situation was handled. Gallant was with the team from the start, and led them on their legendary run in 2017-18. He won the Jack Adams Award that season as the NHL’s coach of the year.
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Yes, looking back now it seems like it has worked out, but, at the time, the move raised eyebrows across the league. The Knights were tied for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference, but GM Kelly McCrimmon was not happy with the way the team was playing.
In order for our team to reach its full potential, we determined a coaching change was necessary. Our team is capable of more than we have demonstrated this season,Vegas GM Kelly McCrimmon via NHL.com.
The salt on the wound was hiring Peter DeBoer. Knights fans consider the San Jose Sharks their team’s biggest rival, and there was bad blood between the teams after the first round of the 2019 NHL Playoffs. Everyone remembers the Sharks’ epic Game 7 comeback after a questionable major penalty call in the third period.
Even DeBoer acknowledged that the move was “uncomfortable” at first:
I’ll be honest with you. It was a little uncomfortable walking in. We had some epic battles with that group over the last three years, having played them in the playoffs twice. All the baggage. Some of the games we had in the regular season. So my first meeting with the group was a little uncomfortable…DeBoer on the “ESPN On Ice With Wyshynski and Kaplan” podcast.
It seems McCrimmon was right. The Knights are 15-5-2 under DeBoer and are in first place in the Pacific.
The Best: Two Big Wins Against Top Teams
Despite the bumps, the Golden Knights have been resilient this season and shown that they are Stanley Cup contender, should it be awarded. There are a couple of wins that stand out in particular, and both came during the Knights’ recent run of success.
February 13th: 6-5 Overtime Win vs. St. Louis
It had been just under a month since Gallant was fired. The Golden Knights were 4-3-2 under their new head coach and were ranked third in their division. After losing three of their last four games, they faced a tough test at home vs. the top team in the Western Conference, the St. Louis Blues.
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The Knights were 1-1-0 against the Blues on the season heading into this matchup. After trailing 3-0 after the first period, the Golden Knights pulled off a 5-4 OT win. It was the first time in franchise history that they had come back from a three-goal deficit to win. That Jan. 4 thriller was also their last home win, posting a 0-3-1 record at T-Mobile Arena since. It had been 40 days since their last win in Vegas.
There was a lot of uncertainty heading into this game. Vegas fans had yet to see their team win at home under their new head coach, and no one was sure if they were for real or not. The team desperately needed a win, and they got it in dramatic fashion.
It was a back and forth battle for the whole game. Zach Sanford scored 25 seconds into the first period to give the Blues the lead, but two goals from Max Pacioretty in the next seven minutes made it 2-1 Golden Knights. Sanford scored again in the first, and the Blues added another from Mackenzie MacEachern to head to the locker room up 3-2 after one.
Tied at 4-4 with less than 10 minutes to play in the third, Sanford scored his fourth goal of the game and gave St. Louis a 5-4 lead. Then, with 4:40 remaining, Alex Tuch redirected Jon Merill’s shot past Jordan Binnington to tie the game.
The game went to overtime, and it was Jonathan Marchessault who played the hero on the power play.
The win against the Blues sparked the Golden Knights’ best play of the season. It was the first of an 8-game winning streak (tying a franchise record) in which they beat some of the best teams in the league.
February 20th: 5-3 Win vs. Tampa Bay
During that winning streak, the Golden Knights proved that their recent run was not a fluke. They had won three in a row, beating the Blues, New York Islanders, and Washington Capitals before hosting the Tampa Bay Lightning, the hottest team in the NHL at the time. The Lightning entered the game on a franchise-record, 11-game winning streak.
Everything went well for the Knights and their late-season acquisition Alec Martinez. After Tampa Bay took an early first-period lead, Martinez scored just his second goal of the season in his Golden Knights debut.
It was Martinez’s first goal in 14 games, and his second multi-point game of the season. The Knights took the lead in the second period and never gave it up. Pacioretty added an insurance goal in the third for his seventh goal in seven games.
The win improved the Knights’ record under DeBoer to 8-3-2, and the two points vaulted them to the top of the Pacific where they still stand. Their strong performance showed that when they are playing their best hockey, they can beat anyone.
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It’s fitting that the two high points of the Golden Knights’ season came in their run under DeBoer. They had won 11 of their last 13 games before the pause in the NHL season, and they should expect to pick up where they left off should play resume.
Golden Knights contributor and lifelong hockey fan from Connecticut. Also an NHL researcher for NBC Sports.