The Florida Panthers
How does this sound, the Panthers asked Vegas: We’re going to fire our coach so you can hire him in a few months; leave a top center unprotected in the expansion draft; and — wait, there’s more! — trade you another leading scorer to supply instant offense. This conversation did not actually happen, but the moves did. A strong Panthers presence courses through the Golden Knights.
The enduring image of Gallant had been of him climbing into a taxi outside PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., in November 2016 after being fired by the Panthers. Now it is of him standing behind the Vegas bench, overseeing a team that wins again and again and again. He pumps positivity instead of dwelling on mistakes, listens instead of demands.
“You feel good about yourself when your coach feels good about you,” Gallant said Saturday.
Thirty goals last season couldn’t persuade Florida to retain Jonathan Marchessault, who followed up by tallying 27, to go with 48 assists, for Vegas while becoming a more responsible two-way player. In these playoffs, he has amassed 18 points, tied for most by a player in a franchise’s postseason debut, and two game-winning goals.
Marchessault’s former Panthers teammate Reilly Smith, acquired for a fourth-round pick, flanks him on Vegas’s top line. All he’s done this postseason is rank second on the team in playoff scoring — behind Marchessault.
As usual, the N.H.L.’s premier snipers led the league in goals this season: Alex Ovechkin, Patrik Laine, William Karlsson — wait, who? Across his three previous seasons, with Anaheim and Columbus, Karlsson scored 18 goals. This season he had 20 by New Year’s Eve, when he registered a hat trick against Toronto.
Finishing with 43 goals, one behind Laine and six behind Ovechkin, Karlsson, 25, provided a jolt to the Golden Knights’ offense that was welcomed as much as it was unexpected.
The Chips on Their Shoulders
No matter how many goals they scored (or didn’t score) last season, no matter how many saves they made (or didn’t make), the Golden Knights gathered for training camp before the season as equals — traded and exposed, discarded by their old teams, exiled to an expansion franchise in the middle of the desert. Disrespected and discounted, the Golden Knights coalesced around that snub.