Tonight at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, the National Hockey League officially arrives in Sin City as the Vegas Golden Knights host the Arizona Coyotes at 7:00 pm. The NBC Sports Network will carry the Golden Knights' first regular-season home game on national television, and Vegas puts its 2-0 record on the line in a rematch of Saturday night's thrilling overtime victory for the Golden Knights played in Phoenix.
In that game, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made 27 saves while left wing James Neal scored the game-winning goal on a pretty pass from David Perron that traveled behind the net and momentarily caught Arizona goalie Antti Raanta by surprise. Look for the same two goalies to start again tonight, as the Coyotes try to jump start their scoring offense against Fleury.
The Vegas goalie holds a lifetime 6-4-1 mark against the Arizona franchise, and that comes with a .933 save percentage and a 1.98 goals-against average in 12 games. Basically, Fleury has been a tough nut to crack for the Coyotes throughout his long and distinguished career in the NHL. That shouldn't come as a surprise to any Golden Knights fan, however, as Fleury's track record is the prime reason he's suiting up in Sin City tonight.
Offense Doing Just Enough
As for Neal, no one was sure if he would ready for the regular season as suffering a hand injury in the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring and undergoing surgery after the Finals. But there he was in the team's first game against the Dallas Stars on Friday night, scoring both goals, and with his game winner in the second contest, Neal currently is tied for sixth in the NHL for goal scoring. He also is tied for the team lead in points (three) with defenseman Nate Schmidt (one goal, two assists) right now.
While the Golden Knights were out-shot by the Stars on Friday night by a large margin (46-30), they turned the tables on the Coyotes on Saturday, out-gunning Arizona by a 42-28 margin. A hot goalie can stifle a lot of shots as Fleury demonstrated in the 2-1 win over Dallas, but generally, the margin against Arizona is what Vegas will be aiming for again tonight at T-Mobile Arena in front of a rabid crowd.
Perron leads the team with ten shots on goal, even though he hasn't found the net yet. That doesn't bother anyone, as the more pucks that fly at the opposing goalie, the better.
Defense Outstanding So Far
Defensively, veteran blue liner Jason Garrison has blocked 12 shots in just two games, while Schmidt has been playing a great two-way game himself with six blocked shots. Defenseman Luca Sbisa has provided a physical presence through the first two games with six hits to lead the teams, and three forwards—Neal, Brendan Leipsic and William Carrier—are tied for second on the team with five hits. That kind of two-play play is much appreciated as well by Head Coach Gerard Gallant.
Overall, it's hard to critique the Golden Knights' start to their inaugural NHL season. Both games were close and could have gone either way, but the Vegas organization chose its veteran leaders—Fleury, Garrison and Neal—wisely in the expansion draft, and it has a balanced roster, too, with the likes of Schmidt and center Cody Eakin, who leads the team with 22:31 average time on ice, representing youth with an upside.
And The Winner Is ...
We predicted on Friday that the Golden Knights would win at least 25 games this year, and we also predicted the team would win both the season opener and the home opener. We did not, however, predict that win in Phoenix on Saturday. If our prediction for tonight comes true, Vegas will score a lot of goals in front of the hometown crowd to break the ice, so to speak, at T-Mobile Arena in fine fashion. Look for another stellar game from Fleury as the Golden Knights win tonight, 5-1.