|Surprising Golden Knights face daunting task vs. Blues|
LAS VEGAS -- The expansion Vegas Golden Knights have been the feel-good story of the first two weeks of the National Hockey League, winning five games and trailing the first-place Los Angeles Kings by just one point in the Pacific Division standings.
Now comes a real litmus test for Gerard Gallant's squad, which hosts the Central Division-leading St. Louis (6-2-0) on Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena. Three nights later, the Chicago Blackhawks (4-2-2) pay a visit.
Vegas enters the two-game Western Conference showdown with a glossy 5-1-0 record. However, upon closer inspection, the Golden Knights have defeated just one team with a winning record, the Dallas Stars (4-3-0). Three of the wins came against the Arizona Coyotes (twice) and Buffalo Sabres, who have a combined one victory between them.
"No, I don't look at it like that," Gallant said when asked if the next two games will offer a better barometer of just how good his squad is. "Every game is tough for our team. Every game we try and get ready to play. We're an expansion team. We've got to work hard every game. I want the same effort no matter who we're playing."
"St. Louis is a heavy, physical fast team with a lot of skill," Vegas left winger James Neal said. "It's a team I saw a lot of while playing in Nashville. They're playing well right now so it will be a good test for us."
Although Neal admits the quick start is "still early for sure," he wasn't afraid to utter the "P" word when looking ahead.
"We want to make to make the playoffs," Neal said. "We want to be competitive. We're going in the right direction."
Neal and St. Louis center Jaden Schwartz are among four players tied for third in the NHL with six goals. Schwartz had a hat trick in the Blues' 5-2 win over the Blackhawks on Wednesday night. St. Louis followed that up with a 4-3 victory at Colorado on Thursday as center Paul Stastny, who helped lead the University of Denver to the 2005 NCAA Hockey title, registered a goal and an assist to pass the 600-point milestone in his career. He now has 601.
"It's kind of unique and special to get it here, home base for me," Stastny said. "If we don't get that win I don't think it feels that special. It's cool. It's special. It's something you don't really think about it, just in the moment. When season is done or my career is done, I'll reflect. My mindset has always been just enjoy the moment."
Stastny still has a long ways to go to catch his father, NHL Hall of Famer Peter Stastny, who finished with 1,239 points, including 450 goals.
Saturday night's contest ends a stretch that saw St. Louis play seven of its first nine games on the road. The Blues return home on Wednesday to host Calgary, beginning a span in which the Blues will play seven of nine games at Scottrade Center.