The Vegas Golden Knights took to the ice for their first meaningful game since June at T-Mobile Arena on Thursday. And much like the last one, it turned out to be one the team and the fans will want to quickly forget. The Golden Knights were totally outplayed by the Philadelphia Flyers, losing 5-2 before 18,555 in attendance.
While the importance of a season opener pales in comparison to being eliminated in the Stanley Cup Finals, afterward, fans still felt like they had been punched in the gut. The team lost its season opener for the first time in franchise history, lost its home opener for the first time in history, and has a losing record for the first time in history. But relax, take a deep breath, and repeat coach Gerard Gallant’s favorite mantra from last season: take it one game at a time. Losing a game doesn’t ruin the season, losing a home game doesn’t eliminate you from the playoffs. It’s an 82-game schedule and to push the panic button at this point is laughable.
Before the game, the players were greeted by the fans on a gold carpet arrival line through Toshiba Plaza. Inside, the arena was buzzing with excitement as the fans filed in. Singing the national anthem was last year’s sensation, Carnell “Golden Pipes” Johnson, who paused mid-verse for the anticipated crowd roar, “KNIGHT”, before finishing the song. A Cirque du Soleil aerialist descended down from the rafters to deliver a puck to the ‘Golden Knight’ mascot on the ice, who delivered it to center ice where Vegas’ icon Wayne Newton and Knights fan L’il John dropped the ceremonial first puck. The entire Golden Knights lineup was introduced then Pacific Division and Western Conference Championship Banners were revealed.
Then there was a hockey game to play.
Jonathan Marchessault scored the first goal on the season 6:37 into the first period, assisted by John Merrill and Marc-Andre Fleury. That would pretty much end the highlights for those three players and the team as a whole. The Flyers’ Oskar Lindblom and Wayne Simmonds would score later in the period to give the visitors a 2-1 lead going into intermission.
The second period only got worse for Vegas. Simmonds would tack on a power play goal, while Robert Hagg and Scott Laughton would also score to give the Flyers a 5-1 within the first 7:17 of the period. That would force a rare move by Coach Gerard Gallant shortly after: pulling Fleury out of a game. Fleury left just after the midway point of the game after giving up five goals on 16 shots. He was replaced by Malcolm Subban, who kept the Flyers scoreless the rest of the way on 9 shots.
Asked after the game about the goaltending change, Gallant defended Fleury. “It was on the team. I didn’t like the way we were playing, I didn’t like the tap in goals there. Marc would be upset with himself, but it wasn’t Marc Andre Fleury, it was our team.”
Max Pacioretty, playing in his first regular season game with Vegas, also had his new teammate’s back. “You know we left Flower (Fleury) out to dry there and that’s frustrating. He’s the backbone of this team, so it’s frustrating when you leave your best player out to dry like that, and we’ll make it up to him the next game.”
The only possible bright spot was the play of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. One of three Knights wearing the Alternate Captain “A” on his jersey, Bellemare played a strong game, centering William Carrier and Ryan Reaves, who had 8 combined hits and were the only line that seemed to give the Flyers a bit of trouble moving the puck. Bellemare had 4 takeaways and was key to holding Philadelphia to only one power play goal. Bellemare also scored his first goal off the season, shorthanded at 8:28 of the third period.
Last year, the Golden Knights started out on the road then cam home for an extended homestand. After Thursday’s opener, the team now will head east for the next five games beginning Saturday against Minnesota, a team that Vegas has never beaten. Following the Wild, the Golden Knights will head to Buffalo, back-to-back games vs Washington and Pittsburgh, then finish the season series with the Flyers with a rematch in Philadelphia. The next home game will be on October 16 versus Buffalo.
(Gold Carpet photos by Sportsline America – Chris Ross)
(Game photos by Sportsline America – Jose De La Cruz)