What is a good indicator of how well the Vegas Golden Knights will perform in 2017-18? Not much considering a first-year franchise, so I took this question to the next best thing: EA Sports NHL 18.
I haven’t bought a new TV since my college days. And if anyone wants to know how long ago, you can gladly guess by my Facebook or Twitter socials. When I recently purchased a PlayStation 4 and tragically saw I needed a HDMI port, I scrambled for a friend’s TV built after the Clinton Presidency. So before getting into my EA Sports season simulation, a big thank you goes out to Tony Hammond and his gamer-brother Brandon for the use of their 50-inch Samsung.
The NHL 18 Game
Fellow THW columnist Drew Johnson, who says it all in his extensive review of NHL 18, had this to share about the realism factor of EA Sports’ latest product.
“Other than their faces and goalie masks, the players look real. Ever since the series moved to next generation systems, I’ve had people walk into the room and ask whether or not I’m playing a video game.”
And I agree, after seeing first-hand the work EA Sports Canada puts into its motion-capture technology.
Even though I’ve been playing video game hockey ever since Blades of Steel in the 80’s, I wasn’t hooked until the mass appeal of NHL ’94 in 1993. That was the same year I started truly loving hockey, after watching my goalie idol Felix Potvin make a serious Stanley Cup run. Yes, I’m still trying to forget about a certain high-stick that wasn’t called against a certain Los Angeles Kings centerman. And let’s just say I dealt out my own punishment against goalie Kelly Hrudey’s 58-rating in the Super Nintendo game.
For the fourth consecutive season in the world of video game hockey, “Doc & Edzo” Mike Emrick and Eddie Olczyk call the EA Sports action. I wouldn’t want anyone else while admiring Mike as a fellow broadcaster, and after meeting the USA Hockey Hall of Famer in 2016. And my prayers go out to Eddie O, who in real-life is away from his booth partner undergoing colon cancer treatments.
First Faceoff & First Half of the Season
For my NHL 18 simulation with the Vegas Golden Knights, I used Full-Sim mode inside the rules settings along with 20-minute periods and injuries selected. I also used the site Left Wing Lock to help edit the current NHL team lines. Based upon recent success and the players I didn’t have to update; Toronto, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Washington, and Edmonton have the most cohesion going into the year.
Welcome to the NHL, Las Vegas! In its 1st ever game Friday night, the Golden Knights were crushed by the Dallas Stars 5-1. Vegas winger Reilly Smith scored the team’s first-ever goal at the 5:34 mark of the 1st period. Coincidentally in real-life, that almost happened for Smith on the power play in Dallas. But the result was the 1st contradiction to this simulation, a first-ever win for a franchise opening on the road in 45 years!
Back to the video game and after another loss on the road in Phoenix, team VGK didn’t disappoint fans for their home opener. Mr. Smith again scored another first goal, this time 17:16 in the 1st period. And Pierre-Édouard Bellemare buried a shot halfway into overtime for a 2-1 victory at T-Mobile Arena.
The team finished the month of October with a modest 3-4-4 record. Injuries started piling up in November, most notably at the goaltender position which led to the majority of the season starts (48) going to backup Calvin Pickard. Of course at the same moment I finished my NHL 18 simulation on PS4, the real-life goalie was inexplicably waived on Thursday and traded to Toronto on Friday. I stubbornly went ahead with this article, while finding goalie subject matter for the next one. Vegas closed out 2017 with a New Year Eve matinée victory over the Maple Leafs 3-1.
Second Half of the Season
After a gritty 5-2 road victory against the Blackhawks in January, the Vegas Golden Knights finished the first half with a record of 15-20-6. Healthy players returned to the lineup, but the result wasn’t as expected. Over the last two and a half months, Vegas lost 15 games to finish 12th in the Western Conference with 79 points at 35-38-9. But this finish by team VGK ranks second all-time in first-year expansion records, trailing the 83-point Florida Panthers from 1993-94.
The Golden Knights finished the virtual season ranked 18th on the power play (16.7%) and a dismal 29th on their penalty kill (80.2%). The leading scorer was David Perron with 21 goals and 54 points. Vadim Shipachyov tallied the most assists with 40. Home-opener hero Pierre-Édouard Bellemare led the team with a +8 rating, while Deryk Engelland spent the most time in the “sin bin” with 63 penalty minutes.
Playoffs & Awards
The Washington Capitals won the Presidents Trophy out of the east while the St. Louis Blues topped the western squads. It was quite a run for the Colorado Avalanche, who tied wildcards Minnesota and Chicago with 87 points each. In the end it was an all-Canada Stanley Cup Final. Conn Smythe Trophy winner Cam Talbot backstopped the Edmonton Oilers to a 4-0 sweep of the Montreal Canadiens. And the rest of the NHL Award winners were:
Art Ross Vladimir Tarasenko (STL)
Norris Drew Doughty (LAK)
Lady Byng Vladimir Tarasenko (STL)
Calder Clayton Keller (ARI)
Vezina Sergei Bobrovsky (CBJ)
Jennings Sergei Bobrovsky (CBJ)
Masterton Nikita Zadorov (COL)
Selke Jonathan Toews (CHI)
Ted Lindsay Vladimir Tarasenko (STL)
Rocket Richard Alexander Ovechkin (WAS)
Now that my simulation is over, compare it to the one EA Sports conducted with these video results. Look for a familiar Vegas stat…
On a personal note as a former Las Vegas resident, it has been a very difficult week after watching the tragic events from The Strip unfold overnight into Monday. As sports fans we get passionate about our teams, sometimes to the point of intense emotions. Many are still investigating why a man unleashed his emotions against music festival fans from across the globe. I urge the passionate in life to also find perspective by breaking down the barriers between our neighbors, so this “melting pot” doesn’t continue to boil over. As the Golden Knights volunteer to help bring #VegasUnited, I conclude with a poignant Big & Rich video from Sunday’s Route 91 Harvest Festival.
California born and Southern raised, JW is a Midwest broadcaster & Vegas Golden Knights contributor for THW. He’s an avid golfer & goalie who grew up watching the stylish Leaf Felix Potvin. His favorite assignment (yet) was the 2011 Stanley Cup Final…kissing the Cup inside & fires outside in Van City.