Golden Knights host Sharks in Pacific Division showdown
LAS VEGAS — The turkey and pumpkin pie tasted a little better than usual for the Vegas Golden Knights on Thanksgiving, and it wasn’t because defenseman Nate Schmidt was the host for the team dinner after practice.
One look at the Pacific Division standings added a little flavor to the meal.
Thanks to their 4-2 comeback win at Anaheim on Wednesday night combined with Winnipeg’s 2-1 victory up the freeway over Los Angeles, the expansion Golden Knights (13-6-1) leapfrogged the Kings into first place. Now Vegas will try and stay there Friday afternoon when they host the San Jose Sharks at T-Mobile Arena.
“It feels really good,” Vegas forward James Neal, who scored the game-winner against the Ducks, his team-leading 11th goal of the season, said. “Our team has put a lot of work in to get to know each other, become a team. It feels really good that it’s paying off.”
“It’s pretty awesome,” added goalie Maxime Lagace, who began the season fourth on the depth chart but has won three straight. “I don’t think anyone (expected) that. We’re happy the way we’re playing right now.”
The Golden Knights, who started the season with an NHL expansion record three straight victories, also matched the league mark for the most wins through the first 20 games of an inaugural season, tying the record held by the Montreal Canadiens in 1917-18.
Vegas can garner another expansion record with a win over the Sharks. The Golden Knights, who are 8-1-0 at home, will be going for their eighth-straight win at T-Mobile Arena. If they get it, it would tie the NHL record for most consecutive home wins in an inaugural season set by the Toronto Arenas in 1917-18.
“I didn’t know that we’d have a team that would be in first place at Thanksgiving but I thought we had a team that was going to be competitive and right now things are going well for us,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said. “We’re working hard and competing hard and we’re getting the right bounces. Hopefully that will continue.”
Despite the historic start, Gallant knows all it will take is a couple bad games and his team could be at the other end of the Pacific standings. San Jose (11-8-1), which comes in off a 3-1 victory at Arizona on Wednesday, is tied with Anaheim for fifth place — just four points out of first.
“The division is so tight that one bad week and you could be out of the playoffs,” Gallant said.
San Jose has played well on the road, improving to 5-2 away from the Shark Tank with the win over the Coyotes. The Sharks lead the NHL in goals-against average (2.20) and goalie Martin Jones comes in on a roll, compiling 9-3-1 mark over the last 13 games. His 2.11 GAA ranks second in the NHL while his .926 save percentage ranks sixth.
The Sharks also can feel better a lot better about center Joe Thornton who snapped a five-game scoreless streak with a goal at Arizona. The 2006 Hart Trophy winner, 38, has struggled at times recovering from major left knee surgery in the offseason. He has three goals and eight assists but missed four practices over a nine-day span.
“I’m starting to feel better,” Thornton told the San Jose Mercury News. “I was banged up there a bit. My legs feel stronger. It’s nice to get healthy again. It’s nice playing healthier.”
Center Logan Couture leads San Jose with 11 goals and 17 points.