The Vegas Golden Knights were in the midst of a down year. Having a sophomore slump was almost a guarantee for the upstart franchise. It would’ve been obscene to expect that the Las Vegas misfits would once again set the NHL on fire and ride to their second Stanley Cup appearance in as many years. Hope sure, but expecting to reign supreme over the Western Conference is rarely a good idea. That is, until the VGK began this month-long hot streak.

On Nov. 22, the day before defenseman Nate Schmidt returned to the T-Mobile Arena, the Knights were tied for 10th place in the Western Conference with 21 points. As of Dec. 11, they’re in a three-way tie for sixth place in the West. In the nine games since, they won seven matchups in regulation.

Knights celebrate Nate Schmidt’s return against the Calgary Flames (Credit: Harrison Epstein)

On Nov. 23, the Knights took the ice against the Calgary Flames, who are currently leading the Western Conference with 40 points. It was a perfect storm for the Knights to set a tone for the rest of the regular season. It was a special night (Hockey is for Everyone Night), the Flames already had a big win over the Knights (7–2 just four days prior), Schmidt made his return and it was the first time back in Vegas for inaugural-team standout James Neal.

In stark contrast with the heroes return given to David Perron in his first time back to The Fortress, “Flames” Neal faced a bitter crowd. With goals from Alex Tuch and Colin Miller, Miller’s first of the season, the Las Vegas faithful had plenty to enjoy. As much as there was animosity in the stands toward Neal, players seemed to have even more.

There were eight fights throughout the night, including one that sent Neal to the penalty box, with the final coming with just three seconds left in the third period. Rather than resume play and risk a ninth altercation, the referees called the game and the Flames went north with a tough loss.

In the next night it was just domination. Marc-Andre Fleury recorded his fifth shutout of the year in a 6–0 victory over the San Jose Sharks. The Knights leapt to a lead quickly, with William Karlsson scoring the first goal in 14 seconds, the quickest goal in Knights history. The rest of the first period featured goals from Miller for the second straight game and pair from newcomer Max Pacioretty.

A more in-depth look can be found here from Sin City SM’s Kevin Smith.

Holy Schmidt: Golden Knights Find Their Mojo With The Return Of Suspended Defenseman

Departing from the friendly confines of Sin City, the Knights were face-to-face with what should have been a daunting road trip against Chicago, Vancouver and Edmonton—all in a five-day span. The team responded with an 8–3 win over the Blackhawks in the first game, including Daniel Carr’s first goal with the Golden Knights. By the final buzzer, 11 different Knights picked up points. Defenseman Shea Theodore recorded two goals and one assist in the game.

Against the Canucks it was the Pacioretty show. He recorded a pair of goals, his second such night in three games, and the Knights won 4–3.

And with that, November had come to a close. A month that started on a 2–4 streak ended on five straight wins. The Knights fell to Edmonton on Dec. 1 in an uneventful 2–1 loss.

The next home game was the rematch. The night that fans marked on their calendars in May. The Capitals came to town. With fans rearing from well before the puck dropped, it was a game for the ages that the Knights claimed 5–3. It didn’t take long for fan-favorite Ryan Reaves to send the Caps a message. Reaves knocked down Tom Wilson, the Stanley Cup antagonist, twice in a single shift.

In the second period, things got more serious and once again, it was the two enforcers at the center of everything. Reaves launched a shoulder into Wilson who, depending on the account, either saw or did not see Reaves coming. Either way, the hit took Wilson out of the game and he’s been out with a concussion since.

In a postgame interview, Reaves said, “I thought he was just looking at his pass, and ran into a lion in the jungle. I thought he actually saw me. It looked like he took a peek and if he sees me I know he’s going to try to lay me out, and I’m not going to let that happen.”

In his own postgame interview, Capitals coach Todd Reirden gave his point of view. “Reaves targeted him the entire game. You could hear it on every faceoff. You could hear the things that were being said, and it’s a blindside hit where an unsuspecting player hits his head on the ice. That’s disappointing. You can put two and two together, but he targeted him the entire game.”

Five total goals were scored in the third period, with the final two coming from Schmidt, the former Capital himself. They were his first goals of the season and his first since committing long-term to a future on the Strip.

Schmidty Deal: Knights Lock Their (Nate) Schmidt Up

The Knights then bested the Blackhawks, for the second time, on Dec. 6. The nondescript win gave the VGK a 5–0 record against Chicago, one of six teams that have failed to take down the Knights. Following a 5–1 loss to the Kings in Los Angeles, Fleury recorded 22 saves in the ensuing win over the Dallas Stars. The Knights now stand with a 17–14–1 record on the year.

With their next matchup, the Knights are looking to get the final monkey off their backs. They’ll take on the New York Islanders in the Barclay’s Center, the only team whom the Knights have failed to defeat in their short existence. The Islanders are coming off a loss to the Penguins in a shootout on Monday.