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Is the “Vegas Flu” helping the Golden Knights?

The Golden Knights are on fire at home

Vegas Golden Knights v Vancouver Canucks Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images

I’ll start this with some fun facts: per the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Las Vegas had approximately 6.8million visitors in 1970. Last year (2016) they had approximately 42.9MM visitors. Over the last 46 years the number of visitors has risen by 529%. In the last 10 years alone it has risen by 10%.

A lot of speculation has gone into why the Vegas Golden Knights are so successful at home (7-1) and not on the Road (4-5). It’s not uncommon for a team to have success at home but typically it runs around 60% it appears as if Las Vegas is running around 88% right now. (Insert joke here about favorable gambling odds). Why is this? Is their road schedule considerably harder? Not really, they’ve faced easy Arizona both home and away and have an equal mix with away games against Toronto, NY Islanders as well as home games against St. Louis, Chicago and LA Kings. Some difference in when four goalies they have started played? Well the home wins have come from Fleury, Subban, Dansk AND Lagace so that’s not it. Perhaps it’s sheer happenstance. We’ll get to that at the end.

The theory of the Vegas flu is that opposing teams coming into Las Vegas are either anticipating a fun night at the Bellagio or the Palazzo or worse yet, coming off a long night previously and thus they were sluggish and not at their “optimal” performance when they face the Golden Knights in Las Vegas. I believe Alan Garner said it best in the Hangover “Six months ago, when Doug Introduced me to you guys, I thought “Wait a second, could it be?” And now I know for sure, I just added two more guys to my wolf pack. Four of us wolves running around the desert together, in Las Vegas, looking for strippers and cocaine. So tonight, I make a toast!”

Super Bowl LI Proposition Bets At The Westgate Las Vegas Race & Sports SuperBook Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Disclaimer: As I go through these stats I understand they have had one more game on the road then at home but the variances are still strong enough that their road numbers are very strong in most metrics.

Initial speculation was the difference in shots. Get this, they actually have a better shot differential on the road (316 shots for vs. 303 shots against for a positive 13 shot differential) vs. at home (255 shots for and 286 shots against for a negative 31 shot differential) so clearly it is not a difference of shots on goal that accounts for the home wins.

Well maybe it’s penalties and power plays. At home they have 7 power play goals (1 shorthanded goal), on the road they have 6 power play goals (1 shorthanded goal) while the power play percentage of 21`% at home vs. 16% on the road is definitely in favor of them being more efficient at home, a one goal difference does not account for a difference between 7-1 and 4-5 record. Scratch power plays off the list.

So next I came to Hits & Blocked Shots. Well, at home they have 176 hits and 136 blocked shots on the road they have 216 hits and 157 blocked shots. So on the road they have 40 more hits and 21 more blocked shots. Scratch the defensive physical stats off the list.

Alas I was ready to give up until I came across giveaways and takeaways.

Giveaways:
Home - 87
Away - 124

Takeaways:
Home – 156
Away- 80.

That’s a difference of nearly 2x as many takeaways and 1.5x fewer giveaways when they are at home vs. on the road. I’m not sure if it’s the atmosphere or their drive but clearly they are getting under other teams skin and creating turnovers while protecting the puck well on their own end. Let’s take this a step further, TA/GA ratio CAN be a good indicator for success but it is not necessarily the end all be all. The top five teams this year in that metric are sitting as the 2nd, 7th, 11th, 18th and 22ndbest teams in the NHL. Last year the top 5 teams finished 11th, 30th, 22nd, 5th and 6th. The big outliers last year was the Colorado Avalanche (who were 27th in shot differential so dispute winning the Giveaway/Takeaway battle, they were still getting out shot by average 3.75 shots per game). As long as the Golden Knights can continue this trend, they should stay north of the home ice advantage (let’s say 70%); HOWEVER, it could be due to an emotional start from a team with a new fan base in a new arena and if that’s the case, we could watch it slip as they lose some of the spirit and fight as the raucous crowd diminishes each game. If by chance opposing teams are having a bit too much fun, it won’t be long until a story emerges.