So the Vegas Golden Knights are officially a thing that has a record and a history and something to build on after a surprise 2-1 win in Dallas. We make sure to mention this because there’s a real possibility you missed it, given that the NHL decided to debut a franchise on the road in a mid-level hockey market on a Friday night, and against a team that belongs to a different division.
(Seriously, how do the Golden Knights not get the opening-night stage – and the national shine on NBC that comes with it – against a major-market team that could soon become a direct rival in, say, the Los Angeles Kings?)
But however silly it is to have the first expansion franchise in 17 seasons begin on a two-game road trip through Dallas and Arizona, the scheduling will afford us at least one benefit: we’ll have gained a sense of the on-ice product before experiencing the NHL – Vegas-style – on Tuesday when the Golden Knights host (you guessed it) the Coyotes on the back half of a home-and-home.
Here are our five first impressions of the Golden Knights.
1. Marc-Andre Fleury was absolutely the right choice
With so many goaltenders to choose from in the expansion draft process, some (I) wondered if investing heavily into one with more than a decade of service would be in the best interest of a team likely hoping to contend in three-to-five years. Now, after one start, arguing that Fleury was the single-most valuable asset made available to George McPhee doesn’t seem like much of a stretch.
The three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Pittsburgh Penguins was nothing short of brilliant versus the Stars. He strung together 31 consecutive saves into the latter half of the second period (he finished with 45) as the Golden Knights were buried in their own end. And after Tyler Seguin chipped a perfect tip into the top corner through a mess of bodies, Fleury wasn’t beaten again.
2. They’re going to sell some James Neal jerseys … even with his future uncertain
James Neal certainly made the best of his first chance to endear himself to fans of the Golden Knights after missing the entire preseason. The talented and ill-tempered winger scored the first and second goals in franchise history, which proved to be enough for the Golden Knights to secure their first win.
The finishes – especially the second – offered a glimpse of the skillset of a former 40-goal scorer. But what will really have some fans hoping that Vegas isn’t a launch pad to a contender for the pending unrestricted free agent is the element of sandpaper he brings to games. Neal unloaded on Tyler Seguin in the second period with the game’s biggest hit, raising the temperature between the two teams.
— Adam Reid (@AdamReid_) October 7, 2017
3. It could be ugly at times
Kudos to the Golden Knights for treating their city and the fans who helped influence their arrival with an opening night to remember. But to expect similar results to turn up with any sort of regularity would be rather foolish.
Vegas was the second-best team on the ice in Dallas on Friday by a fairly significant margin – and that’s the reality this team will face on most nights in season one.
4. Scoring is going to be an issue
Seeing Oscar Lindberg listed as the No. 1 center was shocking. What wasn’t? What little threat the Golden Knights were able to muster with a player like Oscar Lindberg working out of the No. 1 center position.
The Golden Knights unearthed a few capable scorers as they assembled their talent this summer, including Neal (who demonstrated what he can offer intermittently) and last year’s surprise 30-goal man Jonathan Marchessault. But the problem is these players may have difficulty creating their own offence and must rely on players like Lindberg and Cody Eakin (who mustered a paltry 12 points in 60 games last season in Dallas) to regularly facilitate.
In addition, Vegas’s back line struggled to connect the forwards Friday, contributing in leaving the talent out there on an island.
5. Something was amiss
Beyond, well, winning, the good news for the Golden Knights is that help should soon be on the way. We think.
George McPhee created a bit of a mess for himself leading up to opening night, having failed to clean up a logjam of defensemen on NHL contracts. To avoid forcing players these players onto waivers and potentially losing them for nothing, the Golden Knights had to demote the ones who could avoid that process – which happened to include three of their more talented offensive players.
That the Golden Knights won without Vadim Shipachyov, Alex Tuch and Shea Theodore made Friday’s result that much more unlikely. But the Vegas braintrust must get this sorted out quick.
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