LAS VEGAS--If you thought that the Golden Knights were living on beginner’s luck, you might have changed your tune this week. And by this time next week you might become a true believer.
Their 2-1 win over the two-time defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night proved that they will not be intimidated by the big boys. And after they play Florida on Sunday, the Knights will host a loaded Tampa Bay Lightning team Tuesday that is playing the best hockey in the NHL.
Chris Andrews, who runs the book at the South Point, put up a prop a few weeks ago asking whether the Knights would make the Stanley Cup Playoffs next spring. The “yes” is now a minus-200 favorite; the “no” plus-175. Compare that with what the Westgate SuperBook put up at the beginning of the season, when the Knights were a plus-900 long shot to make the playoffs.
Seeing the return of goaltender Marc-André Fleury from concussion protocol through the eyes of the T-Mobile Arena fans was fascinating. I didn’t realize what a crowd favorite he had become. He became even more of a focal point because of what Sidney Crosby said before Thursday’s game. He felt that the Penguins had an enormous advantage on Fleury because of all the time they faced him in practice. But Fleury proved them wrong.
He came way out of the net in the first period to fend off a mano-a-mano attack by Conor Sheary, and then he went sprawling in the second period to stop a shot from Brian Dumoulin on his empty net. Those two moments had the fans going crazy. It was a crowd that was dotted with Crosby and Malkin jerseys, but you could hear everyone afterward buzzing about Fleury.
At no time did the Penguins dominate play, and that has become a recurring theme for the Golden Knights. A couple teams have gotten the better of them with big defensemen, but the Penguins did not. Sometimes a superstar will still step up, and it’s impossible to miss when he is out there. You know it. You feel it. He controls the puck. But there was no point when you thought that Sidney Crosby was ever a dominant force.
I know that this is not a great Pittsburgh team right now, so Tuesday night’s game against Tampa Bay could be the biggest test of the young season. But either way the Golden Knights have provided a rallying cry for the city. A tip of the hat to Gerard Gallant for how he has managed this group that George McPhee has put together. Those two got the ball rolling, and it has only gotten better for a franchise that just does not look like an expansion team.