When you looked at the schedule ahead of the season, you surely circled Golden Knights-Sharks on Feb. 7 and envisioned a measuring stick game...for the Sharks? Naturally, you thought Vegas and San Jose would hold the Pacific's top two spots, and the former would lead the latter by...10 points?
Yes, just as everyone predicted, the expansion Vegas Golden Knights enter Thursday's contest as the Western Conference's best team, and the league's third-best by points percentage. In other mass hysteria news, dogs and cats are now living together.
As any forlorn gambler can tell you, whether they bet on the hockey team or not: Vegas is no joke. The Sharks learned this firsthand in November, losing in overtime to the preseason longshots in a Black Friday matinee, when a three-goal comeback fell short.
Vegas entered that game as a pleasant surprise, leading the Pacific Division standings by a single point after the first 20 games. Since then, the league's newest team has been a surprising standard-bearer.
Since Nov. 25, only the Bruins (22-4-4; 48 points) have a better record than the Golden Knights (21-8-3; 45 points). As is the case with any Vegas institution, there's some luck involved, as their PDO (the sum of shooting percentage and save percentage) is the eighth-highest in the league over that span.
For the most part, though, they have the hallmarks of an elite team. The Golden Knights are sixth in five-on-five puck possession (52.39 corsi-for percentage, per Corsica Hockey), tied for fourth-most goals across all situations (102), tied for the sixth-fewest goals against (80), and third in penalty kill percentage (86.8 percent) since they last played the Sharks.
By those same measures, San Jose is 12th (51.05 corsi-for percentage), tied for sixth-most (97), tied for sixth-most (93), and 12th (82 percent). By no means have the Sharks been bad, as they've picked up the seventh-most points in the league since Nov. 25.
The Golden Knights have simply been better.
As a result, Thursday night's contest will not only serve as arguably San Jose's best barometer of their capabilities without Joe Thornton, but as a possible playoff preview. It just might be the start of a legitimate, albeit nascent rivalry.
Familiarity breeds contempt, and including Thursday, the Sharks and Golden Knights will play three more times this season. They'll face each other twice in the final 10 games of their respective seasons, with seeding (in the case of San Jose) and a possible President's Trophy (in the case of Vegas) likely on the line.
Much like the Golden Knights this season, that's far more than anyone could have truly expected.