The NHL’s 31st team drops the puck on its inaugural season Friday as the expansion Vegas Golden Knights pay a visit to American Airlines Center to face the Dallas Stars. Three-time Stanley Cup champion Marc-Andre Fleury joins a host of others selected in June’s expansion draft as the Golden Knights vie to give their home city a reason to smile as it deals with the aftermath of an unspeakable tragedy.
“I still get those butterflies and still get nervous every once in a while. To be a part of a historic game like that will be pretty amazing. I‘m looking forward to it,” the 32-year-old Fleury told Las Vegas Weekly. While Fleury backstopped Pittsburgh to at least 30 wins in eight of his 13 seasons, Dallas has been aching for stability in net for quite some time. The Stars, who posted the fourth-highest goals-against average (2.98) last season, addressed their longtime weakness by trading for the rights to Ben Bishop and signing the two-time Vezina Trophy finalist to a six-year, $29.5 million contract. Dallas added several new faces in the offseason but welcomed back a familiar one as coach Lindy Ruff was replaced by Ken Hitchcock, who guided the team to the 1999 Stanley Cup.
TV: 8:30 p.m. ET, ROOT (Vegas), FSN Southwest (Dallas)
ABOUT THE GOLDEN KNIGHTS: The true X-factor on a team full of questions may very well be top-line center Vadim Shipachyov, who Vegas is betting on translating his considerable success in the Kontinental Hockey League to the NHL. The Russian import recorded a KHL third-best 76 points last season for SKA St. Petersburg and joins former 40-goal scorer James Neal on an offense that is expected to struggle out of the gate. The focus of general manager George McPhee and respected coach Gerard Gallant at the expansion draft was on stockpiling draft picks as well as stacking the defense, notably Shea Theodore (Anaheim), Nate Schmidt (Washington) and Jason Garrison (Tampa Bay).
ABOUT THE STARS (2016-17: 34-37-11, 6th in Central Division): Dallas was quite active with the checkbook this offseason as it inked Alexander Radulov to a five-year, $31.25 million deal to add extra firepower to an offense that features Tyler Seguin (team co-leading 26 goals, 72 points) and former Hart Trophy winner Jamie Benn (26 goals). Towering 6-foot-6 center Martin Hanzal signed a three-year, $14.25 million deal and can contribute at both ends of the ice, which likely will bring a smile to the face of the defensive-minded Hitchcock. Blue-liner John Klingberg’s offensive numbers dipped last season, but the addition of Marc Methot should aid in helping a Stars’ defense that finished 29th in goals against.
1. The Golden Knights, the Foley Family Charitable Trust and the NHL announced a joint donation of $300,000 to support the victims and the first responders in the wake Sunday’s mass shooting in Las Vegas.
2. Dallas C Jason Spezza reached the 50-point plateau in 2016-17 for the 12th time in 14 seasons.
3. Vegas C/LW Jonathan Marchessault recorded a career-high 30 goals and 51 points last season with Florida.
PREDICTION: Stars 5, Golden Knights 1