To paraphrase former Kings coach Darryl Sutter, there ain’t no weak expansion sisters.
Sutter sometimes said there were not any soft teams, or “weak sisters,” in the Western Conference playoff race. That take is relevant this season because of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, who have gotten the Kings’ attention as Pacific Division leaders out of the Christmas break.
“You look at the standings and there they are,” Jake Muzzin said. “They’ve done a great job. Obviously there wasn’t a lot of expectations going into the season for them and they’re [in] first. They’re a hard team to play against. They’re another big Western team, really.”
The Kings will get their second look at Vegas when the Golden Knights play their first game at Staples Center on Thursday. Vegas has t a 10-game point streak (9-0-1), the longest run in NHL history by a team in its first season.
In addition to scorers James Neal, Jonathan Marchessault and David Perron, the Golden Knights have formed an identity with role players in front of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
“They’re a special team because they have all those third- and fourth-line guys, even second-line guys, that are just working [hard] and relentless on the puck, and on the forecheck, blocking every shot,” Drew Doughty said. “No one’s surprised by them … because those fourth-liner guys are some of the hardest guys to play against. That’s why they’re successful. All those guys are working as if they’re up to lose a spot every single night.”
The Kings are ready for divisional play after a front-loaded schedule of Eastern Conference opponents. Fifteen of their 22 victories are against the East. The second half of the season might be more revealing for Vegas as well. It is 10-1 against the Pacific Division, with four of those victories against the last-place Arizona Coyotes. The Golden Knights beat the Kings on Nov.19, and Kings coach John Stevens was already aware of how their personnel was constructed.
“The [forward] roles were set up, and the people did a good job of managing that situation,” Stevens said. “I think everybody was expecting them to be good. I don’t know if they were expecting them to be this good, but I think you saw them get out of the gate in a hurry and [people] said ‘Jeez, when are they going to fall off a little?’ Well, they’re not going to go away.”
The Golden Knights’ style seems to fit with the Western Conference, which has in recent years been perceived as more defensive, physical and hard-checking than the East. That suits Doughty, who said Eastern teams aren’t soft “but they don’t finish checks,” among other aspects.
“They do compete on pucks really hard, but they’re not going to come and be physical on you,” Doughty said. “They have sweeping forechecks. They’re trying to lift the stick and get under a stuck to turn over a puck that way, whereas in the West, you have physical guys coming down on the forecheck and absolutely trying to nail you.
“The West is a little more defensive oriented. That’s the biggest difference. I don’t know which is the more successful way, but I would rather play the Western style every day.”
When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
On the air: TV: NBCSN; Radio: 790.