Chicago Blackhawks fall to Golden Knights 4-2
Expansion teams in any sport are supposed to be easy targets.
Some great examples include the NHL's 1974-75 Washington Capitals (8-67-5), MLB's 1962 New York Mets (40-120), the NBA's 1995-96 Vancouver Grizzlies (15-67) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who lost their first 26 NFL games from 1976-77.
The reasons for dreadful opening seasons are pretty obvious -- these franchises all start from scratch and deal with a talent gap as wide as the Grand Canyon.
So when the Vegas Golden Knights -- the NHL's first expansion franchise since the league went to 30 teams in 2000 -- rattled off 6 wins in their first seven games, it certainly got everybody's attention.
"You can't underestimate this team," coach Joel Quenneville told reporters before the Hawks played in Vegas on Tuesday night. "They've obviously got some confidence and a fun thing going for them."
And the fun didn't stop against the Hawks as the Golden Knights -- using their third-string goalie -- improved to 7-1-0 with an impressive 4-2 victory.
The Hawks (5-3-2) jumped out to an early lead when John Hayden notched a short-handed goal at 3:33 of the first period, but Vegas quickly went ahead on back-to-back goals in the next 2:14.
The Hawks' penalty kill was spectacular in killing off a double minor to Ryan Hartman late in the second period. Seven seconds after Hartman left the box, though, Vegas made it 3-1 on a goal by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.
"You watch video of this team and you see that work ethic," Hawks assistant coach Kevin Dineen told NBC Sports Chicago after the second period. "It's a pretty admirable quality that they play as hard as they do. It's the difference in the hockey game right now."
And it stayed that way throughout as Vegas kept the pressure on and went up 4-1 on a power-play goal by Jonathan Marchessault with 9:40 remaining.
Patrick Kane made it 4-2 with 65 seconds left, but it wasn't nearly enough for Quenneville's team.
Vegas has won four straight and can tie the longest winning streak by an NHL expansion team if it wins its next game.
The Golden Knights have plenty of veteran talent, including former Central Division foes such as James Neal (Nashville), David Perron (St. Louis) and Erik Haula (Minnesota), as well as Reilly Smith and three-time Stanley Cup-winning goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Hawks appeared to catch a break with Andre-Fleury recovering from a concussion, but Dansk -- in just his second NHL game -- was spectacular in stopping 29 shots.
It's fair to wonder if Vegas eventually will succumb to the trials and tribulations that so many expansion teams have dealt with, but the Golden Knights showed plenty of spunk against the Hawks.
So who knows?
Maybe -- just maybe -- this team will surprise the sports world come April and qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
"Vegas played great. Give them a lot of credit," Adam Burish said on NBC Sports Chicago's postgame show. "They play with a lot of pace. They have a lot more skill that I think people anticipated. … This is a team that people are going to have to take seriously.
"And to be honest, this is a tough team to root against as a fan with all that's going on in Vegas. That's a good hockey team."
Heading into Tuesday's games, Patrick Kane was tied for seventh in the NHL with 11 points. Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos is the league leader with 18 (3 goals). … Columbus went 28-39-9-6 and Minnesota 25-39-13-5 in 2000-01, the last season in which the NHL expanded.