The Vegas Golden Knights were determined not to let happen to them what they did to their opening night opponent in their first-ever game five years ago.
The Knights won their inaugural game back in 2017, 2-1 over the Dallas Stars. Tuesday, playing at home against the NHL’s newest team, the Seattle Kraken, the Knights let a 3-0 second-period lead slip away before Chandler Stephenson had the puck bank off his skate past Philipp Grubauer with 11:27 to play and give Vegas a 4-3 win at a very loud T-Mobile Arena.
“It felt like a playoff game out there,” said Max Pacioretty, who had two goals. “Tonight was a special night in the building and we used that energy to get the win.”
The Kraken turned what was looking like a blowout into a nail-biter, getting goals from Ryan Donato, who becomes the answer to the trivia question: “Who scored the first goal in Seattle Kraken history?” followed by tallies from Jared McCann and Morgan Geekie to tie it.
But Geekie’s celebration may have fired up the Golden Knights. They thought it may have been a bit excessive and 35 seconds later, it was the Knights and the 18,431 inside T-Mobile Arena were doing the celebrating as Stephenson scored and the video review confirmed he had not used a distinct kicking motion to direct the puck into the Seattle net.
It wound up being an entertaining game and one the Kraken’s fan base along with a national television audience watching the return of the NHL on ESPN can look at with a heavy dose of optimism.
“They work hard,” Golden Knights captain Mark Stone said of the Kraken. “With expansion teams, you don’t see a lot of prospects. They’ve got a lot of experienced players so I think it was expected they would come in here and play well.”
What was good …
Vegas’ top line: Stone, Pacioretty and Stephenson combined on an eight-point night (three goals and five assists). And considering they didn’t play together that much over the long preseason, their ability to flip the switch and click the way they did was impressive.
“I thought we executed well, especially on that last goal,” Pacioretty said.
Stephenson, who had a goal and an assist, said: “Playing with these two guys the last two years, you get used to being out there with them. They’re both all-stars and for me it’s been a lot of fun.”
Coach Peter DeBoer said the top two lines were able to carry the team.
“We were essentially shorthanded and we needed to lean on the big guys,” he said. “I thought our top two lines were exceptional.”
Lehner’s play in goal: Robin Lehner got a warm ovation when he was introduced with the starters and he earned those cheers, stopping Jordan Eberle in the first minute. He also came up with several big stops throughout, including turning back Brandon Tanev’s shorthanded breakaway attempt.
“I thought I made a lot of good saves,” said Lehner, who stopped 28 of the 31 shots he faced. “It’s just nice to get the win.”
With Marc-Andre Fleury gone, Lehner may have won some people over to his side with his performance Tuesday.
‘It was a tough game for him, I think we all know with the footsteps he’s following,” DeBoer said of Lehner taking over the net for Fleury. “You saw his emotion at the end of the game. That’s rare for him. You don’t see that a lot. It was an important win for him.”
Pietrangelo domination on D: Alex Pietrangelo seemed to be everywhere and his game-high 26:10 TOI reflects that. He’s definitely comfortable playing DeBoer’s system with this group of players.
“He’s a horse,” Stone said of No. 7. “I think last year he didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. Now, he’s comfortable with everything and he plays with a lot of confidence.”
What didn’t work well …
The Dorofeyev Experiment: Rookie forward Pavel Dorofeyev was in the lineup Tuesday despite having never played even a preseason game with the Golden Knights. He struggled and DeBoer sensed it right away. Dorofeyev played just five shifts overall, none in the third period as DeBoer shortened his bench and rotated Keegan Kolesar and Peyton Krebs to play with Nolan Patrick and Evgenii Dadonov. Dorofeyev played just 4:07 Tuesday.
Dylan Coghlan didn’t fare any better. The defenseman was thrust into a forward’s role on the fourth line and he played only six shifts and had just 4:37 TOI.
Power Play woes: After some reason for optimism in the preseason, the Knights’ power play reverted back to its inept self. Vegas was 0 for 3 and the quality chances were few and far between.
The good news? The penalty kill, which was a cause for concern, was on point Tuesday. DeBoer had William Karlsson and Reilly Smith as his top PK forward unit and they were terrific. The Knights were a perfect 3-for-3 on the kill.
Up next …
The Knights make their first road trip of the season when they travel to Los Angeles Thursday to face the Kings at Staples Center in L.A.’s season opener.