Home-ice advantage paying off for expansion Golden Knights

Raucous crowd cheers on its Vegas Golden KnightsThe Vegas Golden Knights continue to rewrite the book on what’s possible for an NHL expansion team. The Golden Knights have points in their last 10 games - a first for an expansion team - going 9-0-1 to rise to the top of the Western Conference. Once expected to be a basement-dwelling afterthought for the 2017-18 season, Vegas is looking more and more like a playoff contender with each game.

One big advantage the Golden Knights appear to have over other franchises in their expansion years is a hometown that presents some unique challenges to visiting opponents. Whether or not players have been able to resist the draw of Vegas’ many casinos and neverending nightlife, the results suggest something is working for the Golden Knights, who are 15-2-1 at home. Home games are where players like Reilly Smith and James Neal have thrived, producing points at a rate far higher than in Vegas’ road games, but the biggest difference is in net, where the team’s save percentage jumps from .890 on the road to .925 at home.

But that doesn’t mean the Golden Knights are a bad road team. They have a winning road record, and defeated the Anaheim Ducks on the road on Wednesday in a convincing 4-1 victory. Malcolm Subban earned the win with 27 saves and William Karlsson chipped in with his 17th goal of the season, highlighting two Vegas players in the midst of breakout campaigns. Subban, who leads the team with nine wins, entered the season with two career starts, while Karlsson has almost matched the goal total from his first 183 games after just 35 games with the Golden Knights.

Subban and Karlsson are making the most of an opportunity they weren’t afforded on their previous teams, and they aren’t alone. Thanks to the nature of the expansion draft, Vegas’ roster is filled with players other teams deemed expendable, and many of those players are now playing with something to prove. Aside from five-year commitments for Smith and Brayden McNabb and three years left for Cody Eakin and Erik Haula, all other Golden Knights players will be negotiating a new contract within two seasons. Having basically an entire team of overlooked players in contract years is working wonders for Vegas, though it might make contract negotiations slightly more painful in the coming offseasons (Karlsson, for example, will be due for a hefty raise over the $1 million he is making this year).

The Golden Knights close 2017 with a visit to the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday and a home game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday.