LOS ANGELES — There’s a Mirage in Las Vegas. It’s not the hockey team.
The Golden Knights began their first NHL season with three consecutive wins, then a loss, then five consecutive wins. Beginner’s luck, and we all know how long that holds up in Vegas, right?
Sure, the Knights ran through four goalies in their first 11 games, but they also had a home-heavy schedule and the pure adrenalin that comes with rejection. All their veterans were left dangling by the 30 resident NHL clubs. At some point that chip would dissipate, and the gray-clad Knights would fade to black.
Instead, Vegas (not Las Vegas) took a five-game win streak into Staples Center Thursday and hadn’t lost in regulation since Dec. 1. It had just beaten the Ducks for the third consecutive time. During this streak alone the Knights had won at Nashville and Dallas, and beaten Tampa Bay and Washington at home.
T-Mobile Arena is fully occupied and humming. The franchise has not taken a wayward step, dating to the opener, when it ran a tasteful, inspiring ceremony honoring the first responders at the Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting, which happened nine days before.
Now Vegas has won 24 of its first 35 games. It seems on course to become the first NHL expansion team to make the playoffs since the league invented a six-member division of neophytes in 1967.
Not counting the WHA teams that were absorbed, the record for wins by a first-year, post-1967 expansion team is 33, shared by the Ducks and Florida in 1994.
“We’re a motivated team that believes in the system and the way we have to win,” said Brayden McNabb, the former Kings’ defenseman who is plus-13.
“That’s a pretty good combination. We’ve been good 5-on-5. Players here want to prove something, and you mix that in with the chemistry we’ve got.”
Hockey teams leave their souls on the ice, almost by definition. This is not a game you can fake. But the Golden Knights seem to take that “compete level” to a more…