Feel free to keep treating the Vegas Golden Knights like an expansion team. Really, they don’t mind being taken lightly.
The trouble is, they’re hard to overlook given an 8-3 start (16 points). That despite losing their top three goaltenders — Marc-Andre Fleury, Malcolm Subban and Oscar Dansk — to injury after trading Calvin Pickard to Toronto. Maxime Lagace became the fourth goalie to start for the Golden Knights on Tuesday night in New York, and 19-year-old Dylan Ferguson was recalled from juniors to be their fifth to dress in a game.
This isn’t your ordinary expansion team. The Golden Knights have a legitimate chance to surpass the 1993-94 Florida Panthers’ record for most wins (33) and points (83) by an expansion franchise. It should be pointed out that Florida’s mark came in an 84-game season while Vegas will play 82 in its inaugural regular season.
“I hope they treat us like lesser of a team,” Vegas forward Erik Haula said. “We’re OK with that. We’re OK with the underdog role for the whole season. We’re trying to outwork teams and prove a point to everybody that we’re all good players. It’s been a lot of fun. We have a great group.”
Feel free to enjoy all the sights and distractions of their city, too. Teams try to treat the visit to Vegas like a business trip, but this is Vegas, with entertainment around every corner. The Golden Knights are 6-1 at home.
“They’re no slouch at all. They’re a good team,” said Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson, whose team was routed by Vegas 7-0 last Friday. “I’m not really surprised at all.”
Vegas could be in the thick of the postseason conversation, too. The last expansion teams to make the postseason were the 1979-80 Edmonton Oilers and Hartford Whalers, who were coming over from the World Hockey Association, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“Will they beat the record of 33 wins for a first-year franchise? I would imagine they have a good shot at that,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in September. “But I don’t know.”
The players certainly had a strong vibe this could be a memorable season from the opening faceoff.
“We knew what kind of club we had. We knew we’d be fine,” said forward James Neal, who leads a balanced scoring attack with seven goals and three assists. “We put together some good games. Hopefully, we continue to do that.”
A Buffalo Sabres defenseman hasn’t scored a goal this season. San Jose’s Brent Burns , the reigning Norris Trophy winner, has yet to find the net, either.
Sure, it’s early and the sample size is small, but scan the list of goal scorers and the first defenseman checks in tied for 55th — Alex Pietrangelo of St. Louis with four.
After a win at Buffalo over the weekend, Burns was asked whether scoring among defensemen appeared to be down around the NHL or perhaps is an early season aberration.
“A little bit of both,” Burns said. “I didn’t know it was league-wide. I thought it was just me.”
Burns had 29 goals a season ago. However, he only had three by Halloween so he clearly picked things up late.
“It’s all right,” Burns said. “There’s other stuff opening up and just have to adapt to it. It’s hockey, you know.”
COLLEGE FREE AGENTS
Colorado forward Alexander Kerfoot and New Jersey defenseman Will Butcher are linked by their decisions over the summer — both eschewed signing with the team that drafted them to become college free agents.
Kerfoot elected not to sign with New Jersey out of college and worked out a deal with Colorado. Meanwhile, Butcher didn’t agree to terms with the Avalanche after his University of Denver days and went to the Devils.
Kerfoot has three goals and three assists in an Avalanche sweater, while Butcher leads the Devils with 11 assists.
“The process was a little bit stressful when going through it the first couple of days, but it turned out really well for me,” Kerfoot said. “I’ve been put in a position to succeed a little bit. … I Just tried to play my game and be confident out there, try to prove myself in whatever role they put me in.”
LEADERS (through Tuesday)
Goals: Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay), 13; Assists: Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay), 18; Points: Stamkos, 24; Time on ice: Rasmus Ristolainen (Buffalo), 27:23; Goals-against average: Carter Hutton (St. Louis), 1.67; Save percentage: Hutton, .950.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Pekka Rinne and the Nashville Predators travel to Anaheim on Friday in a rematch of the Western Conference finals a season ago. The Predators beat Anaheim 4-2 to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno and AP freelance writers W.G. Ramirez in Las Vegas and Jonah Bronstein in Buffalo, New York, contributed to this report.
More AP NHL coverage: https://www.apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey