ANAHEIM, Calif. — Bruce Cassidy has seen potential NHL dynasties fizzle when players rest on their laurels and fail to put in the work necessary to remain on top. But the Vegas Golden Knights have yet to show signs of that through one month of the 2023-24 season.
The Golden Knights have been a buzzsaw, ripping off 11 victories in their first 13 games and once again looking like the team to beat. Vegas set an NHL record for the longest season-opening point streak by a reigning Stanley Cup champion (12), which was snapped Sunday when they lost 4-2 to the Anaheim Ducks.
“We talked about our team in broad terms, as in ‘do you want to be a one-and-done [champion],” Cassidy told The Game Day Hockey. “Do you want to be kind of that legacy team, or do you want to be a one-and-done?”
The Golden Knights have shot to the NHL’s best record in the same way they won the Stanley Cup last spring, with exceptional offensive depth.
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So far, 23 different Vegas players have recorded a point, including goalie Logan Thompson, and 18 players have scored a goal. But Vegas’ seemingly limitless depth is powered by its dominant and high-character star players.
As of Nov. 6, William Karlsson, Jack Eichel, and 2023 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Marchessault each share the team lead with six goals. Karlsson and Eichel are first and second on the team in points, just ahead of captain Mark Stone and No. 1A defenseman Shea Theodore, who have 12 points.
“They’re good players, and they play the game the right way,” Cassidy said. “When you [have success] you’ve typically got guys who park their ego. They do what’s good for the team. It’s a credit to them.”
Plus, Vegas’ goaltending tandem of Thompson and 2023 playoff hero Adin Hill has once again been tough to beat. The Golden Knights are fourth in goals-against average (2.15) and in team save percentage (.929) as of Nov. 6. Hill is sixth (1.81), and Thompson is 10th (2.31) in goals-against average.
Though Hill backstopped Vegas to the Cup by winning 11 playoff games last spring, he and Thompson have split the first 13 starts almost evenly. Still, Cassidy has seen Hill and Thompson each build the other up while competing for more playing time.
“They’re both young, and they’re both kind of competing against one another, yet they’re also good friends and want to see the other one do well,” Cassidy said. “When it’s their turn to go, they’re ready to go, and when it’s not their turn, they’re supporting the other guy so when it is their turn they’re sharp.”
It’s too early to say whether the Golden Knights will repeat as champions since doing so is tough. Only two teams have won the Cup in consecutive seasons (Tampa Bay Lightning 2020-21 and Pittsburgh Penguins 2016-17) over the past 25 seasons.
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“There have been some teams that have won recently that have not returned or been close, and there’s others that have put a string together like the Tampa Bays of the world,” Cassidy said.
But the 58-year-old coach can see his players are ready to do whatever they can to be the last team standing once again.
“It starts with preparing all over again and playing the right way and respecting the game,” Cassidy said. “I think our guys have done a real good job with that.
“But we were champions last year, but that doesn’t mean anything this year, right? It does to us and how we play, but the rest of the league doesn’t care.”
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Golden Knights’ Cup Win Affirms Vegas’ Status as Hockey Hotbed
June 16, 2023
I remember being in Las Vegas in 2016, and the city’s appetite for an NHL team did not seem strong.
Fast forward seven short years, and the Vegas Golden Knights are arguably the NHL’s model franchise after winning the Stanley Cup with a dominant five-game win over the Florida Panthers.
And Sin City is officially a hockey hotbed.
In hindsight, we all should’ve known the Golden Knights were going to be a smash, especially playing on the Strip at T-Mobile Arena. But there were real concerns, especially for a hockey team moving in.
Vegas is obviously a betting town, but it’s also a basketball town with UNLV’s history of hoops success, and it annually hosts the NBA Summer League.
The NHL isn’t exactly known for its forward thinking, but it saw what naysayers and doubters — especially from Canada — couldn’t. The league does well in cities where it’s the only athletic act in town, especially in the winter months, and the city had enough of a minor-league hockey history to score bona fide fans from the start.
Plus, the NHL and Golden Knights built equity with the locals as the first pro team in town. Even though the Raiders and the WNBA’s Aces have since moved in, and the Oakland A’s are likely to follow, the Golden Knights will always be the first and only team born in Vegas.
Sure, winning helps. The Golden Knights captivated the market by reaching the Stanley Cup Final in Year 1, then brought in superstar after superstar to fill out their roster in subsequent seasons.
Rival fans can mock the concept of “long-suffering Golden Knights fans,” but their loyalty was tested with a series of gut-punch playoff defeats and when Vegas missed the playoffs for the first time in 2022.
It’s easy to forget how much tumult loomed for the Golden Knights before this season. Vegas fired coach Peter DeBoer, then announced goalie Robin Lehner — who controversially replaced Marc-Andre Fleury, an original Knight and the 2021 Vezina Trophy winner — would miss the entire 2022-23 season.
But did interest wane? Nope. The Golden Knights averaged 18,000-plus fans for the fifth straight year — not counting the largely fan-less 2020-21 season — despite T-Mobile Arena’s 17,500-seat capacity for NHL games.
Some of the Golden Knights’ success can be attributed to Vegas’ status as a tourist town, since road fans are present at every game. Some are undoubtedly attracted to the sensory-overloaded in-game effects and pregame show, which lure in casual fans and curious onlookers.
But the NHL has long been fourth in the North American sports scene in revenues and cool factor, which is why it needs Vegas to keep thriving. Despite reports of sagging TV ratings nationally, tourists — who may not know the difference between the red line and blue line — couldn’t miss the thousands outside T-Mobile Arena for the Cup-clincher Tuesday.
Those who took part will remember the fun they had consuming hockey in Vegas, and new fans are born out of those kinds of experiences. And the appetite for hockey in Vegas, and nationally, will only continue to grow.