LAS VEGAS — It’s funny. I’m watching the Golden Knights and it’s sort of like watching a youth hockey team.
Everyone plays. Everyone contributes. Everyone’s happy.
But these aren’t Mites or Squirts. These are NHL guys, most of whom are making millions of dollars. And the parents don’t badger the coach demanding he give their kid more ice time.
The train kept on rolling Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena as the NHL’s best team (11-0-1, 23 points) remained the only one not to lose in regulation this season following a 7-0 blowout of the Colorado Avalanche.
This was supposed to be the toughest test yet for Bruce Cassidy’s team. The Avs are one of the betting favorites to win the Stanley Cup. Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar are two of the best players in the world. The team even flew its moms in to Vegas for the big showdown.
That didn’t work out too well. Mark Stone, Jack Eichel and William Karlson all had a pair of goals and Adin Hill was stellar in the Vegas net, turning back all 41 shots he faced in earning the shutout.
It’s only one of 82 games. Both sides will attest to that. But there’s something special going on with the guys in the gold sweaters. Nothing fazes them. Not travel. Not injuries. Not opposing team’s Mom’s Trips.
Maybe it’s because there’s a high level of trust in the locker room that started last year. Probably because they believe in Cassidy’s system. After all, it produced a Stanley Cup championship. Why shouldn’t there be trust?
People were wondering why general manager Kelly McCrimmon didn’t dismantle the roster after the Knights won the Stanley Cup
in June. He certainly could have broken up the band. The team needed to get younger and there were players in the AHL with Henderson that were ready to move up. There were expiring contracts looming a year from now and why deal with those headaches?
Instead, McCrimmon made one “major” move, sending popular winger Reilly Smith to Pittsburgh so he could use that $5 million AAV to keep Ivan Barbashev, a younger and more productive player, in Vegas.
He also rewarded Hill with a two-year extension, thus keeping Robin Lehner on LTIR where his salary didn’t impact the team’s cap while affording to pay Hill $4.9 million. Hill is also very popular in the locker room with his teammates, especially when he turns in performances like the one he gave Saturday.
Which brings me to the “everyone’s happy” point. Chemistry is important, especially in hockey. Everyone needs to get along, buy in and work together. The Knights had it last year in making their run to the Cup and they still have it as the 2023-24 season is into its second month.
By not bringing new faces into the room, the team doesn’t need to worry about having them fit in. If you’re a Silver Knights player, you’ve been exposed to the Golden Knights’ culture and you know what’s expected.
“You look at most Stanley Cup teams, they blow up the team a little bit,” said Stone, the team’s captain who does a great job of overseeing the room and being the kind of leader that helps teams stay the course. “We were obviously in a position to keep the majority of our team together and we’ve added some guys who’ve really produced for us. Pavs (Pavel Dorofeyev), Barbie, they were with us last year. These guys fit in with the group last season as well as this year.
“It’s also been a great transition to this season. It’s different guys every night. The Karlsson line has carried us and won some tight games for us the last couple of weeks so it’s nice for Eichs (Eichel’s) line and my line to contribute.”
Eichel said: “I think it’s huge.Team chemistry is a very unappreciated piece of why teams have success and I give a lot of credit to the team’s cohesiveness.
“We genuinely enjoy coming to the rink and seeing each other every day. It makes it a lot of fun.”
With the exception of Hill, every person who has dressed and played for Vegas this season has registered at least one point. And that includes fellow goalie Logan Thompson, who picked up an assist in Thursday’s 5-2 win over Winnipeg.
Maybe Hill eventually gets a helper and joins the party. But for now, it’s more important that he not let the opponent get on the scoresheet.
Someone asked me between periods if we could see a repeat by the Golden Knights? Usually, I downplay such talk and give the usual b.s. answer of “It’s a long season …” “There’s a lot of hockey left …” and “Yada, Yada Yada.”
Instead, I said, “Why not? They’re winning despite having guys out. The goaltending’s been solid, if not superb. Everyone’s contributing.”
Cassidy said there’s a quiet confidence about this team. They haven’t played their best hockey most of the time and the players have acknowledged as much. But they also know they’re a good team and the fact they’re finding ways to win is a credit to Cassidy and the system. They never feel like they’re out of it.
“They know when they’re playing well and when they can be better,” he said. “(Saturday), we did a lot of things well and were rewarded for it.”
They’ve achieved the ultimate reward. It wouldn’t shock me if they’re celebrating again come June thanks to the chemistry that exists in the room.