LAS VEGAS--They’re getting ready to throw parades, and the balloons are up. But here’s a message to the Vegas Golden Knights. You really haven’t accomplished anything until you’ve had some boos to go with the cheers.
That doesn’t come from me. Take it from someone like a coach who has actually been to the Stanley Cup Final. ESPN’s Barry Melrose was on “My Guys in the Desert” Thursday on VSiN, and he told me, “The test will come when the Golden Knights lose five or six in a row. It will happen. It happens to every team in the National Hockey League.”
But that probably wasn’t the statement that will resonate the most this week for the Golden Knights. The loudest words came from Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings after they lost at home to Vegas on Thursday. Doughty told The Los Angeles Times that the Knights “frustrate you with their forecheck. You make turnovers – they get chances that way, BUT there’s no way they’re going to be a better team than us at the end of the season.”
The gauntlet is thrown down. The windows are open.
So let’s say the Golden Knights actually shock Melrose and Doughty and the rest of the hockey world. What if they don’t suffer a five-game losing streak? What if they keep frustrating teams with their forecheck through the Stanley Cup Final? If they actually pull that off, the books around here are going to take a bashing. It will make the bath that the Houston Astros gave the books on Nov. 1 look like a kiddy pool.
On Sunday afternoon the Golden Knights host the Toronto Maple Leafs, who beat them 4-3 in a November shootout north of the border. Auston Matthews had three shots and an assist that night, and that was it. You can’t count on him being so quiet when he visits the T-Mobile Arena.
Matthews grew up in Scottsdale, Ariz., and that provides a lesson in another non-hockey part of the world. The story goes that before he could even remember, Matthews got hooked on hockey by watching the Zambonis clean the ice at Coyotes games. He grew up on a growing youth program in the Phoenix area, and that’s exactly what’s going to happen with the Golden Knights here in Las Vegas.
Youth programs in new markets have not only spread the word, they have provided a wealth of hockey talent. It happened in St. Louis, which was not a hockey town until the Blues arrived 50 years ago. Now it is sending players to the NFL the way Phoenix has with Matthews. It will also happen in Las Vegas.
The Vegas flu is also spreading, and even though the Maple Leafs have to play Friday night in Colorado, they’ll have all day to catch the bug on Saturday. There’s a reason that those T-shirts in the VSiN on-line store that say “Vegas Flu, Puck Yeah” are selling like crazy.
But it’s not just here. When the Golden Knights beat the Ducks and the Kings on back-to-back nights on the road this week, coach Gerard Gallant showed that he has two viable goaltenders. Malcolm Subban made 27 saves n Wednesday’s 4-1 win at Anaheim, and Marc-André Fleury had 26 in his 700th game, Thursday’s 3-2 overtime win at L.A. Having those two makes back-to-back games much more manageable.
Whether or not Melrose and Doughty end up being right with their predictions, there’s no doubting now that the Golden Knights just keep coming. They just keep coming. They dig into the corners. They forecheck. No one player ever stands out. It’s just a team effort.
Let’s just say it, folks. The Golden Knights are really fun to watch.