'Vegas Strong': Golden Knights rout Coyotes in inspired home debut
Expansion club honours victims of shooting, remains unbeaten
The Vegas Golden Knights' debut on the Strip was a poignant smash.
James Neal scored twice during a thrilling four-goal first period, and the Golden Knights remained unbeaten three games into their inaugural season with a 5-2 victory over the Arizona Coyotes in their home opener Tuesday night.
"There was so much emotion, but we tried to stay focused on hockey, even though it was bigger than hockey," Neal said. "This is our town. We're making it our home, and we want it to be a hockey town."
Tomas Nosek scored the first home goal in franchise history just 2:31 into the first period, and Deryk Engelland added his first goal for his adopted hometown's new team moments later.
"It was probably one of the more emotional moments of my life," Engelland said. "I probably don't plan on scoring in too many games, but to get that one was pretty special."
Marc-Andre Fleury made 31 saves for the Golden Knights, who became the first team in NHL history to begin their debut season with three straight wins.
Just nine days after the Las Vegas Strip shooting massacre, the Golden Knights reverently honoured the victims and heroes before the long-awaited home debut of the city's first major professional sports franchise.
The Knights held a pregame ceremony during which the names of the shooting victims were projected in gold onto the ice during 58 seconds of silence. Engelland spoke eloquently to the fans, vowing that the Golden Knights "will do everything we can to help you and our city heal. We are Vegas Strong."
After that emotional outpouring, the Golden Knights charged into their home opener with some inspired hockey.
"We talked about tonight being the most important game we'll ever play," Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said. "A lot of guys, we're playing for our city. We're playing for the tragedy that happened, for all the people that were here tonight and affected by the tragedy. I thought our guys did a hell of a job. They came out and they focused on the game. They focused from the start."
Nosek and Engelland connected in the opening minutes before Neal scored back-to-back goals in 4:27, giving him five goals in three games — and all three game-winning goals in team history. Vegas led 4-0 in less than 11 minutes, getting well on its way to a cathartic victory.
Oscar Lindberg scored in the second period for the Golden Knights, who opened their inaugural season with back-to-back road victories before returning home.
Tremendous amounts of class shown by the <a href="https://twitter.com/ArizonaCoyotes?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ArizonaCoyotes</a>, who stayed on the ice to salute Las Vegas with the <a href="https://twitter.com/GoldenKnights?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@GoldenKnights</a>. <a href="https://t.co/3dzNV54FNz">pic.twitter.com/3dzNV54FNz</a>—@NHLonNBCSports
Tobias Rieder and Kevin Connauton scored for the Coyotes, who remained winless after losing back-to-back games to the expansion Golden Knights in a four-day stretch.
Nosek scores first home goal
The crowd had scarcely quieted from the pregame festivities when Nosek, the Czech wing who spent the past two seasons with Detroit, fired a shot through Antti Raanta. Engelland, the veteran defenceman who has lived in Las Vegas since playing here for a minor league team several years ago, then took a pass from Brendan Leipsic and fired it through traffic.
Neal, who scored the first goal in franchise history, made it 3-0 just 6:15 into the first period and chased Raanta, who stopped only three shots. Neal added the first power-play goal in franchise history 4:27 later, setting off roars of excitement in T-Mobile Arena.
Connauton's goal in the third period was his first in his 27 games for the Coyotes.
The Golden Knights' opener was a bit more sombre than the franchise originally planned, although the crowd was still whipped into a frenzy by its team's excellent play.
Before the game, the Golden Knights introduced their players alongside a member of the medical or law enforcement communities that responded to the massacre.
T-Mobile Arena had no ads on the boards around the ice for the opener. Instead, the all-white boards simply displayed the same message: "Vegas Strong."