Thursday, January 4, 2018

Blues' next opponent is not your ordinary expansion team

Vegas Golden Knights winning at record clip for first-year pro franchises, 
lead Western Conference with 56 points, riding eight-game winning streak

ST. LOUIS -- Forget about calling them the little darlings that will just be a blip on the schedule and it'll be a cakewalk.

Not against this expansion team. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Former Blue David Perron is one of several players 
having a solid first season with expansion Vegas.

Not without a legitimate battle.

These are not the Washington Generals.

That's been the mantra for the Vegas Golden Knights, the 31st entry into the NHL that began their inaugural season in October and have turned opposing teams' games into empty feelings by night's end.

The Golden Knights (27-9-2), who lead the Western Conference with 56 points, invade Scottrade Center for the first and only time this season against the Blues (25-15-2) riding an eight-game winning streak and collecting points in 13 straight (12-0-1).

This is no Cinderella with that will throw on her glass slipper and move on into the sunset. This is no fluke anymore. This is 38 games' worth of winning at an incredible clip and not going away any time soon.

And just think, this team was assembled a little over half a year ago.

"They did a very good job picking their team," Blues coach Mike Yeo said of the Golden Knights. "They picked competitive players, smart players, guys that are capable of playing well on both sides of the puck. I think that they're well-coached and I think that they play every game like they're trying to send a message and prove a point. They've played with consistency and it's been an impressive story what they've been able to do. It's not like we're a few weeks into the season here. This is obviously very real and quite a compliment to the job that they're doing."

One of those players is two-time former Blue David Perron, one of 30 players each team in the league would lose off an exposed list of players made available for the expansion draft in June.

And even when they were ravaged by injuries to their goaltenders, including Marc-Andre Fleury, Malcolm Subban, who was injured in that 3-2 overtime win against the Blues on Oct. 21 and Oscar Dansk before settling on Maxime Lagace until the cavalry mended itself back together, the Golden Knights were finding ways to win.

"I think it just goes to show when you get a team that sticks to their systems and work together, it just shows how deadly and how important it can be," Blues defenseman Colton Parayko said. "I think when we're playing like that, too, we're a very tough team. Basically any team, right? It's tough to play against.

"One of the amazing things is that they came together so quick, right? And in such a short span. In the summer, they made the team and all of the sudden, they're together. They're got a training camp together and preseason basically jump right into a regular season. Obviously they've all played the game together, but a whole new team is pretty impressive when you've got to mold 23 or 25 new guys to do something like that."

The Golden Knights have scored 133 goals, tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs for fourth in the NHL but are averaging 3.5 goals per game, which is second in the NHL behind the Lightning, who lead the NHL with 60 points. And Vegas has allowed just 104, tied with the Blues for sixth in the league, or 10th in goals per game at 2.74. They're coached by former Florida Panthers coach Gerard Gallant and making believers out of the hockey world at a rapid pace.

"I think that's far gone now when you get to 42 games in and they're tops in our league. It's amazing," Blues center Brayden Schenn said. "But those are a bunch of guys that, not were let go by their teams, but were not protected and they feel like they've got something to prove. Some of these guys are having unbelievable years, they're well put together starting with the goalie out and they're going to be a tough team to play tomorrow."

Playing against a cast that continues to have the mindset of something to prove because they were cast off their former teams can be a strong rallying cry. If teams haven't started to take Vegas seriously before, they better do so quickly.

The Blues, who outshot the Golden Knights 49-22 in losing 3-2 in overtime on Oct. 21, certainly are paying attention.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Colton Parayko said the Blues will get tested when they
host the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday and is looking forward to it.

"It's one of the top teams in the league," Schenn said. "I don't know where we're sitting in the league right now but two top teams going at it, it's going to be a battle, it's going to be tight-checking, it's going to be an intense hockey game and we're excited for it."

"Obviously like you said, they're first in the West. It's a good challenge for us," Parayko said. "I think that we're starting to build something. That's getting exciting. I know we still have more to give, but we just beat two good Eastern teams. This is going to be another challenge for sure. We want to obviously finish this home stretch with a win."

* NOTES -- The Blues held a full skate on Wednesday, with only two exceptions being defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Vince Dunn.

Yeo said Dunn was sick and held out of practice, but Bouwmeester, who's coming off a lower-body injury, his second injury of the season, will continue to get maintenance days as long as the 34-year-old veteran needs them.

"Just rest," Yeo said. "This is going to be the plan going forward. I don't think that 'Bouw' needs to practice. We want to make sure that he's healthy for the games and feeling 100 percent for the games. He's got the experience. We'll just give him as many maintenance days as he needs to make sure that he can go out and play the way that he has been."

Forward Sammy Blais, who's missed eight games with a lower-body injury, continues to make progress, according to Yeo.

"Good. He's getting closer," Yeo said. "It's time for him, I think, to take another step here." 

No comments:

Post a Comment