Penguins hoping to avoid 'Vegas Flu'
LAS VEGAS — There's an illness making its way around this part of the country. No vaccination can prevent it. No amount of hand sanitizer can slow its spread.
It's the Vegas Flu.
It's a condition where NHL players coming to town to face the Vegas Golden Knights are not necessarily feeling their best because they take advantage of the multitude of late-night entertainment options Sin City has to offer in the days and hours leading up to the game.
Whatever the cause, it's impossible to deny how surprisingly effective the expansion Golden Knights have been at home during their inaugural season, crafting an 11-2-1 record at T-Mobile Arena heading into Thursday night's game with the Penguins.
Coach Mike Sullivan admitted that he's worried about how contagious the Vegas Flu will be in his locker room, though not because he feels any of his players are particularly vulnerable to such temptations.
“Coaches worry about all kinds of things. It's the nature of our business. We worry about everything,” he said. “One thing I will say is I believe we've got a good group. We've got a professional group. I think they understand what's at stake and we've got to make sure we make the choices and the decisions that are necessary to put our team in the best position to win.”
On one hand, it's easy to think Sullivan has nothing to worry about.
The modern NHL player has the resources to visit Vegas at any point in the summer or during in-season vacations like the All-Star break. He doesn't need to take advantage of the free trip to Vegas – as if there could be such a thing – his employer is providing.
Former Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland, who has become one of the faces of the Vegas franchise because he's lived in town in the offseason for many years, isn't entirely sure it's a real thing anyway.
“I don't know. I'm not out there,” Engelland joked. “I'm at home in bed. That's for them to tell you, not me.”
Former Penguins winger David Perron, meanwhile, thinks the Golden Knights do have a strong home-ice advantage, but he doesn't think it has anything to do with any type of flu.
He gives credit to the Golden Knights crowd.
There are always going to be plenty of fans cheering on the visitors at T-Mobile Arena. While Pittsburghers were dodging snowflakes this week, it was sunny with temperatures in the mid-60s in Las Vegas.
For that reason, among others, hotels in the vicinity of the arena have been crawling with black and gold in the past few days.
But that dynamic only makes for a more electric atmosphere on game night, Perron said.
“If we find a way to score the first goal, our crowd really gets into it,” Perron said. “The support from the city has been unbelievable. I went to Office Depot this morning just to grab something quick and this guy was like, ‘Hey, David Perron.' It's not something that even two, three weeks ago we were having, maybe outside of (Marc-Andre) Fleury and Engelland, because he lives here.”
In fairness to the Golden Knights, it's probably a bit cynical to ascribe much of their early season success to their opponents' hangovers.
As the team's 19-9-2 record shows, general manager George McPhee had a pretty solid plan when constructing the expansion roster and the players are living up to their end of the bargain.
“Just about every night — obviously a few bad games — we have 20 guys in here battling and working together,” Engelland said. “If one line's getting shut down, another line's chipping in, right up and down the lineup. Everyone came into this season seeing the opportunities they had to take on bigger roles and guys are running with that and still going with it. I think that's a big key to our success.”