The Golden Knights have been there, done that. They just hope the Seattle Kraken doesn’t do to them what they did the first time they stepped on the ice.
The Knights came from behind to win their first game in their inaugural season back on Oct. 6, 2017, beating the Dallas Stars 2-1 in come-from-behind fashion. James Neal scored the game-winner, his second of the night, after Marc-Andre Fleury stood on his head in goal to keep his team in the game.
“I was just glad we weren’t going to go 0-82,” forward Reilly Smith sad Monday, recalling the moment of the franchise’s first win in its first game of its first season.
The victory was emotionally uplifting for Las Vegas as the city was still dealing with the aftermath of a mass shooting five days earlier that took the lives of 58 people and injured hundreds more.
The Kraken, the NHL’s 32nd franchise, are in Vegas to begin its journey. The matchup of the NHL’s latest teams will be nationally televised on ESPN, which makes its return to covering hockey after a 16-year hiatus. Smith, one of five players still on the current roster who played for the Golden Knights in the historic opener in Dallas, said expectations weren’t high that opening night in 2017.
“We came out with a strong effort and hoped for the best,” he said. “I expect them to come out with a great effort and try and beat us.”
Defenseman Brayden McNabb said there was a lot of excitement and a lot of uncertainty before the Knights took to the ice for their first game. He believes it’ll be the same for the Kraken.
“Seattle’s going to be hungry,” he said. “They’ll play with a lot of energy.”
Center William Karlsson, who would go on to have his best season as a pro with 43 goals, said he was motivated going into the opening game after being a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and before that, the Anaheim Ducks.
“I just wanted to get the chance to prove I could play,” Karlsson said of his mindset going into opening night in 2017. “I think that’s the way a lot of their young guys are thinking.
“They’re probably feeling a lot of excitement, wanting to get going.”
The Golden Knights started 8-0-1. That feat might be hard for the Kraken to duplicate, but Karlsson said the Golden Knights better be prepared for a battle tonight.
“I’m going to be ready for them to come out of the gate hard,” he said. “It should be a good game.”
Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer was coaching the San Jose Sharks back in 2017. He said there’s no way the Golden Knights are taking the Kraken for granted.
“We have tape from their six games,” he said.”Our pro scouts have been really impressed with them. All the reports indicate they’re a dangerous team.”
Perhaps. But the Kraken may not be whole tonight. Five players are in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol and center Yanni Gourde, who is recovering from shoulder surgery last summer, is day-to-day according to coach Dave Hakstol and may not play.
The Golden Knights have their own COVID issue as forward Mattias Janmark was placed in the league’s COVID protocol Monday and is not expected to play in the opener. The team had announced on the eve of training camp last month that all its players were 100% vaccinated.
“I think anytime you’re throwing the word COVID in a sentence you’re worried about it being widespread,” DeBoer said. “And it’s terrifying in a dressing room setting. Just fingers crossed that he’s alright and we don’t have other guys (in protocol).”
William Carrier is in a different protocol, this one for a concussion after he got kicked in the face by a skate in the Oct. 5 preseason game at Colorado. Nicolas Roy and Brett Howden were placed on injured reserve but both are eligible to return to the lineup at any time.
Rookie forward Peyton Krebs is on the opening night roster. So are fellow rookies Jack Dugan and Pavel Dorofeyev. Krebs is expected to play and he’ll likely have butterflies similar to the players in the visitor’s locker room.
Butterflies aside, Smith said the Knights better be ready to compete tonight.
“They’re definitely a real team,” Smith said. “They have a good roster and they’ll be hungry. We’ll have to be sharp, no question about it.”