Through one-third of their first NHL season, the Vegas Golden Knights are tied for fifth in NHL team scoring with 101 goals. That number is plus-11 versus their opponents, and VGK’s per-game average of 3.48 goals is third only to the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning.
To help compile this list of the top five percent of Vegas tallies, I recruited a roundtable of my fellow Golden Knights columnists from The Hockey Writers. Eduardo Razo, Dalton Tinklenberg, Eric Hall, and Thomas Conroy added this assessment of VGK’s early competitiveness.
Early season success gained by the Vegas Golden Knights has been fueled by a blend of youth and age. The talent put on the ice each night has been quite impressive as the future of the NHL in Las Vegas is bright.
#5 We Are Vegas Strong
Eduardo Razo – As the Vegas Golden Knights continue their Cinderella-like season, the best goal I’ve seen came in their home opener versus the Arizona Coyotes on Oct. 10. After a mass shooting nine days earlier, which rocked the city of Las Vegas and the entire country to its core, this brand new hockey team attempted to help take minds off the tragedy, even if it was for just one night. Following the pre-game ceremony honoring first responders, Deryk Engelland, former Las Vegas Wranglers player, and off-season Valley resident, gave a heartfelt speech of support to the sold-out crowd.
Then, as fate would have it, the defenseman would also score the second of five VGK goals that night. Only four minutes into the first period, Brendan Leipsic created a turnover at the Arizona high-slot and curled to find Engelland for a one-timer through a double screen at the top right circle. The crowd erupted. This goal won’t make many highlight reels, but it will surely have a place in Vegas’ top goals in their inaugural season.
#4 Undefeated in Overtime
Dalton Tinklenberg – The biggest goal for the first third of this NHL season has to be Jonathan Marchessault’s overtime goal against the San Jose Sharks on Nov. 24. Shortly after the start of overtime, the winger blasted a goal past Sharks’ netminder Aaron Dell for the win on home ice. After receiving the puck from Shea Theodore in the left faceoff circle, Marchessault used a few shifty moves before lasering the puck, deflecting first off the goalie’s left skate and then off Joe Thornton’s right boot blade into the net.
The extra-frame goal sealed the Golden Knights’ eighth-straight victory at home. More importantly, it helped keep their first-place momentum in the Pacific division. This particular game was VGK’s fourth of five overtime wins this year in as many tries. The goal saved the Golden Knights from what could have been a massive collapse after they led by three goals at one point, similar to their Oct. 17 game against the Sabres.
#3 The Frenchy Dangle
Eric Hall – Pierre-Édouard Bellemare’s second-ever Vegas goal on Nov. 7 was incredible. Down 2-0 for most of the first period at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Bellemare found himself practically alone in the offensive zone with three minutes to play. After corralling the dumped-in puck, No. 41 used his stick-handles to swerve his way through two defenders and put the puck in the net. After making former Bolts winger Jonathan Drouin miss, he five-holed defenseman Jeff Petry and followed that with another five-hole of Canadiens’ goalie Charlie Lindgren.
The goal was important for the team as it shifted momentum going into the first intermission. Scoring late in the first period shrunk the Canadiens lead and gave Vegas hope for a comeback effort. Ultimately, the team lost to Montreal 3-2, but Bellemare’s dangle goal put the team in a better position on enemy ice during a tough East Coast road trip.
#2 Wild Bill is a Top Line Center
Jonathan West – Oct. 21 was T-Mobile Arena’s first-ever Saturday night hockey game for the Golden Knights, and the first draw this year against the league-leading St. Louis Blues. After finishing regulation in a 2-2 tie, VGK entered overtime with their third-string goalie Oscar Dansk after Malcolm Subban was injured in the third period.
With 30 seconds left until a shootout, Blues winger Vladimir Sobotka passed to Alex Steen who mishandled the puck on a Vegas double team. Steen and Sobotka’s tangling with Knights defenseman Brad Hunt created a two-on-one for the home team. Reilly Smith’s pass underneath the stick of a diving Alex Pietrangelo found William Karlsson for an off-wing one-timer to win it.
Drafted out of the Swedish Hockey League by the Anaheim Ducks in 2011 and traded to Columbus Blue Jackets in 2015, it looked as if “Wild Bill” (who got that nickname from the Ducks staff early on) was shaping up to be another NHL journeyman. But now it seems like No. 71 has hit the reset button and is disproving even the harshest critics. His 15 goals and 26 points lead the expansion team.
#1 James Neal and Vegas’ First Win
Thomas Conroy – If Hollywood was casting the role of a classic hockey goal-scorer, then James Neal fits the bill. He has netted over 20 goals in each of his 10 NHL seasons, but none was more important than his opening night game-winning goal against the Dallas Stars earlier this season.
In the days prior to the season-opener, there wasn’t a guarantee that Neal would play against the Stars, and not only did he play, but Neal scored both Knights goals in a hard fought 2-1 win. Neal’s first goal was his patent wrist shot from the top of the face-off circle, but the second goal will forever be etched in Golden Knights history.
The go-ahead goal came on a beautiful lead pass by Cody Eakin on a 2-on-1 breakaway as Neal lost his edge while lifting the puck over Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen from his knees with 2:44 remaining in the game.
Neal’s effort on the goal set the tone for the season. From that moment, the Golden Knights were going to be quite different than past NHL expansion franchises. This isn’t a group of misfits that are lucky to have a job in the NHL. No, this is a roster dedicated to winning each night they lace up their skates.
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.