Emotions ran high Tuesday night at T-Mobile Arena for the Vegas Golden Knights’ home debut, and the first local major-league professional sports franchise capitalized on the energy.
The Golden Knights smashed the Arizona Coyotes, 5-2, in front of a capacity crowd of 18,191 fans that seemed absorbed in the game starting nearly an hour before the puck dropped. A deafening cheer reverberated through the venue as soon the Golden Knights took the ice for a pre-game warm-up.
It only got louder when, as part of the team’s Vegas Strong pregame tribute, the Golden Knights introduced first responders from last Sunday’s mass shooting who then escorted players one-by-one onto the ice. The Coyotes then joined the Golden Knights to line up in a sign of unity for the national anthem.
Almost as soon as Arizona skated to its own bench, Vegas went on the offensive. The first regular-season goal in T-Mobile Arena history took less than three minutes, as Tomas Nosek slid the puck between the legs of Coyotes goalie Antii Raanta.
The fans had barely stopped celebrating by the time Vegas added two more goals, with longtime local defenseman Deryk Engelland nailing a slap shot and early-season star James Neal continuing his tear by wristing in a rebound. Arizona pulled Raanta, but it was too late for any change in fortune.
Neal scored again before the end of the period, and the Golden Knights cruised behind their defense and Marc-Andre Fleury’s goaltending from there. Fleury, who was the NHL’s second star of last week, got the loudest welcome of the introductions and proved he deserved it with 31 saves.
The Coyotes particularly attacked Fleury in the third period with more shots than the first two frames combined, but he put on a clinic aside from a deflected shot by Kevin Connauton finding the net. The Golden Knights’ only non-first period goal went to Oscar Lindberg at 17:22 of the second.
Those left in the arena at the end of the blowout ended the game just as they started it — on their feet giving Las Vegas’ first major-league team an enormous ovation.
Check back to the Sun later for full coverage of the Golden Knights’ first-ever home game, and find live coverage below.
Golden Knights lead 5-1 at end of second period
Following a fast-paced first period where the Golden Knights found the net four times, both teams’ defenses corralled the game in the second.
The Golden Knights extended their lead over the Coyotes to 5-1 with a goal by Oscar Lindberg. Brendan Leipsic made a great cross-crease pass to a wide-open Lindberg, who fired it into the back of the net.
The Golden Knights out-shot the Coyotes 23-15 through 40 minutes, with few challenging Marc-Andre Fleury, while the physicality has been relatively even. Arizona leads Vegas 20-18 in hits.
Deryk Engelland, who performed an emotional speech before the game and scored in the first period, is second on the team with 12:20 of ice time, behind only Brayden McNabb. The two are also tied for the team lead in plus/minus at plus-3.
Golden Knights lead 4-1 at end of first period
The Vegas Golden Knights rode a wave of emotion to score four goals in the first 11 minutes of play.
On a night where the team honored victims and first responders in last week’s mass shooting, everything went right for Vegas in the first period.
Tomas Nosek got things started by sliding the puck through Arizona goalie Antti Raanta’s legs 2:31 into the game.
Long-time Las Vegas resident Deryk Engelland, who gave an emotional speech thanking first responders before the game, ripped a slap shot past Raanta to bring the capacity crowd at T-Mobile Arena to its feet.
James Neal then scored a pair of goals to bring the Golden Knights lead to 4-0. That brings his total to five goals for the season – second in the NHL behind only Alex Ovechkin.
Tobias Reider tipped a shot by Niklas Hjalmarsson past Marc-Andre Fleury with 7:23 left in the period to cut Vegas’ lead to 4-1.
As the Golden Knights prepare for their first regular-season home game in franchise history, they’ve had more than hockey on their minds.
The lead-up to the game has been more about the team’s generosity toward Las Vegas and the victims of the mass shooting on Oct. 1. Players visited first responders, affected families and blood donors, and the team donated $500,000.
“Needless to say it’s not going to be a typical opener,” Golden Knights general manager George McPhee said. “We’ll save that for Friday. (Tonight) is not about us, it’s about honoring and remembering the victims, and supporting the families and recognizing the first responders.”
All advertisements have been stripped from the boards around the rink, and replaced with “Vegas Strong.”
Puck-drop for the nationally televised game was pushed back from 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., and then to 7:40 p.m. to avoid interruption from the game airing before it on NBC Sports Network, so the millions watching around the world can share the moment with Las Vegas.
“The pregame ceremony will be tough, and after it will be a special night for a lot of people,” said Golden Knights forward and longtime Las Vegas resident Deryk Engelland. “We want to win this game for the city.”
Engelland has played in 471 games during his nine-year NHL career but his excitement for tonight may top them all.
“It’s got to be up there with my first game,” Engelland said. “The first game is a pretty special one no matter where it’s at, but this is rivaling that for sure.”
On the ice, the Golden Knights are not underdogs for the first time in franchise history. Sportsbooks have the game as a pick’em, and the game will be available to bet in every book in town.
Vegas is attempting to become the first NHL expansion team ever to start 3-0. The Golden Knights defeated the Coyotes, 2-1, in overtime Saturday night in Arizona. For the most part they dominated play, and outshot the Coyotes 42-28.
Puck drops: 7:40 p.m.
Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
Radio: Fox Sports 1340 AM and 98.9 FM
TV: NBC Sports Network (DirecTV 220, Cox 1038, CenturyLink Prism 1640, Dish Network 159)
Betting line: Pick’em, Total 5.5 minus-120 to the over
Golden Knights (2-0-0) (0-0-0 home)
Coach: Gerard Gallant
Goal leader: James Neal (3)
Assist leader: Nate Schmidt (2)
Expected goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury (2-0-0, 0.98 goals against average)
Arizona Coyotes (0-1-1) (0-1-0 away)
Coach: Rick Tocchet
Goal leader: Five Tied (1)
Assist leader: Alex Goligoski (3)
Expected goalie: Antti Raanta (0-0-1, 1.88 goals against average)
Golden Knights game day roster
Forwards (12): Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, William Carrier, Cody Eakin, Erik Haula, William Karlsson, Brendan Leipsic, Oscar Lindberg, Jonathan Marchessault, James Neal, Tomas Nosek, David Perron and Reilly Smith.
Defensemen (6): Deryk Engelland, Jason Garrison, Brayden McNabb, Colin Miller, Luca Sbisa and Nate Schmidt.
Goalies (2): Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban.
Prediction : Golden Knights 3, Coyotes 2