Golden Knights rout Coyotes in emotional home opener
LAS VEGAS — The worst mass shooting in U.S. history took place just a couple of blocks from their home arena nine days earlier. However, the expansion Vegas Golden Knights continue to give their city something positive to help with the healing.
James Neal continued his hot start with a pair of goals, and Marc-Andre Fleury picked up his third win with 31 saves to lead the Golden Knights to a 5-2 victory over the Arizona Coyotes in Vegas’ first-ever home game on Tuesday night at T-Mobile Arena.
Vegas (3-0-0) became the first NHL expansion team to win its first three games. The California Seals and Los Angeles Kings started their franchises with two wins before they tied each other in their third game in 1967.
“It’s a process,” Golden Knights owner Bill Foley said. “It’s a tough deal that happened nine days ago, but we’re trying to do our part. Our players are trying to do their part.”
Following an emotional 20-minute ceremony honoring victims and first responders from the Oct. 1 shooting that killed 58 people across from the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino, the Golden Knights gave the sellout crowd of 18,191 plenty to cheer about, taking a 4-0 lead in the first 10:42.
“To be honest, I thought the start might be tough for us,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said. “I thought it might be the exact opposite. But our guys knew what was at stake tonight.”
Antti Raanta, who shined with 42 saves in his Arizona starting debut Saturday night, a 2-1 overtime loss to the Golden Knights, was gone after 6 minutes, 15 seconds Tuesday. He allowed three goals on five shots.
Vegas left winger Tomas Nosek started the onslaught, wristing in a shot from the circle past Raanta’s glove hand at 2:31.
Defenseman Deryk Engelland, a Las Vegas resident for the past 15 years, made it 2-0 less than two minutes later when he slapped in a shot from above the right circle.
“We always say we want to help the city start to heal,” said Engelland, who gave a brief speech to the crowd during the ceremony. “Hopefully we’re doing that. I’ll take (goals) when I can get them. I couldn’t be more happy than to get one tonight.”
Neal, who had the game-winning goals in the first two games for Vegas, made it 3-0 with his fourth goal of the season, spinning around in front of the net and firing it past Raanta’s stick side at 6:15.
Louis Domingue replaced Raanta and was greeted by Neal’s second of the period 4:27 later. Neal jammed in a pass from Reilly Smith on a power play to up the Golden Knights’ lead to 4-0.
“I guess you couldn’t have had a better start,” Neal said. “We were ready to go. We were buzzing in the offensive zone. I wasn’t sure how we were going to be off the opening draw, but we tried to be as prepared as possible, and we just got on them right away and got a good lead.”
Raanta said, “Of course it was a special night for Vegas. It was great to be a part of it until five minutes into it and it was 3-0 and the whole building was going crazy and their team was going crazy. It was a tough start, but we need to learn from it. “
Arizona (0-2-1) got on the board at 12:37 of the first when Tobias Rieder deflected Niklas Hjalmarsson’s shot past Fleury.
“We knew it was going be loud, we knew they were going to come out flying, but we just didn’t match it,” Rieder said. “We lost battles all over the ice and can’t win a game if you lose battles everywhere.”
Center Oscar Lindberg extended Vegas’ lead to 5-1 late in the second period when he rifled in a pass from Brendan Leipsic. Arizona defenseman Kevin Connauton concluded the scoring at 14:14 of the third period.
The game was preceded by a moving 20-minute tribute honoring the victims and first responders from the shooting on the Strip. The names of all 58 victims were flashed on the ice during a 58-second moment of silence.
The phrase VegasStrong replaced all ads on the dasher boards and both teams also wore VegasStrong decals on their helmets. Video “Vegas Strong” messages from a number of celebrities, including Keith Urban, Adam Levine and Imagine Dragons, also were shown.
Each Golden Knights player entered the ice with a first responder, and the teams lined up together while the sellout crowd helped sing the national anthem.
Vegas general manager George McPhee said the team would hold a normal opening-night ceremony before the Friday night home contest against the Detroit Red Wings.
NOTES: Arizona coach Rick Tocchet said that F Jordan Martinook sat out the game with lower-body injury and is day-to-day. ... D Adam Clendening and C Zac Rinaldo were also scratches for the Coyotes, while D Griffin Reinhart, D Jon Merrill and D Brad Hunt were scratched by the Golden Knights. ... Arizona F Brendan Perlini sustained an upper-body injury in the first period and did not return. ... LW James Neal’s power-play goal snapped an 0-for-12 drought to start the season for the Golden Knights. ... The Coyotes play host to the Red Wings on Thursday.