The Vegas Golden Knights are off to a historically great start. The NHL’s newest franchise won eight consecutive games before Thursday night’s loss to the St. Louis Blues, which tied it with the 1976-77 Denver Nuggets of the NBA for the longest win streak by any pro sports franchise in its inaugural season over the past 60 years.
It’s important to note that the Nuggets already had an established roster for their first season in the NBA. The joined the league after its merger with the ABA, where Denver had recorded back-to-back 60-win campaigns in its final two seasons. The Golden Knights, by contrast, were built through an expansion draft in which they plucked unprotected players from the 30 existing teams.
Vegas has not just been successful in its recent streak; the Golden Knights — who lead the Western Conference with 56 points and the NHL with 17 home wins — have proved they have staying power and are one of the NHL’s best teams. Before Thursday’s loss, the Golden Knights had earned at least a point in 13 consecutive games and hadn’t lost in regulation since Dec. 1. In addition, Vegas is 7-0-0 this season against the final four teams in the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs (the Ottawa Senators, Pittsburgh Penguins, Anaheim Ducks and Nashville Predators).
Vegas — both the city and the oddsmakers — has fallen in love with the Golden Knights. At the start of the season, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook gave Vegas 500-1 odds to win the Stanley Cup, which was last in the NHL. The next closest teams to the Golden Knights were the Vancouver Canucks, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings, at 200-1.
Now? Those odds have improved to 7-1, second-best behind the Tampa Bay Lightning (5-1), who led the NHL with 61 points through Friday.
Westgate also noted that the Golden Knights have accounted for 8 percent of money wagered and 10 percent of tickets wagered on the odds to win the Stanley Cup. Vegas is second in ticket count, behind only the Chicago Blackhawks, and fifth in money wagered.
Expansion and division
The Golden Knights are having unprecedented success, especially when compared with the 63 previous expansion teams across the four major sports since 1960. Here’s how those previous teams stacked up:
0: Number of those 63 expansion teams that finished their first season with a winning record. The 1993-94 Florida Panthers came closest, finishing 33-34-17.
21: Number of expansion teams that had the worst record in the league in their first season. Most notable among them were the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who went 0-14, and the 1962 New York Mets, who lost an MLB-record 120 games.
5: Number of expansion teams that made the playoffs in their first season. None has done so in the 50 years since four NHL teams did so in 1967-68. That was largely because all six expansion teams were placed in the same division.
The Golden Knights have notched several notable victories during their eight-game win streak:
Dec. 14: defeated the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins 2-1.
Dec. 19: edged the league-leading Lightning 4-3.
Dec. 23: shut out the Metropolitan Division-leading Washington Capitals 3-0.
Jan. 2: blanked the Predators — who reached the Stanley Cup Final last season — 3-0.
Vegas has not allowed more than three goals in a game during the entire streak. Since the beginning of the streak Dec. 14, the Golden Knights have allowed 12 goals, five fewer than any other team.
The goalies have been a significant reason behind the Golden Knights’ success during the streak. Marc-Andre Fleury has recorded a 1.19 goals-against average and .959 save percentage since Dec. 14, both of which rank first among 29 goalies to play at least 300 minutes in that span. Malcolm Subban, Fleury’s backup, has been solid in his starts, as well, going 3-0-0 with a 2.00 goals-against average since Dec. 14.