One year, three months and 14 days,
That’s how long it was when NHL fans heard the news that owners unanimously voted for the NHL to add a 31st team. Fast forward to Friday night in Dallas, it was finally time for the NHL’s newest expansion team, the Las Vegas Golden Knights to play its first regular season hockey game.
Fans of the Knights and of the NHL may agree that it was well worth the wait.
With a 1-1 tie late in the third period, a pair of former Dallas Stars cemented themselves into Golden Knights history.
After fielding a long saucer pass from defenseman Jason Garrison, Vegas forward Cody Eakin, who played for the Stars from 2012 to 2016, started to push the puck into the offensive zone for a two-on-one with 2001 No.1 overall pick of the Stars, James Neal. Seeing Neal opened on the backside, Eakin fired a quick centering pass to the longtime NHL veteran to net the most monumental moment of the night for Vegas.
The goal itself is easily an early nominee for “goal of the year” and gave the Golden Knights their first ever regular-season win in franchise history.
With Neal’s goal giving the Knights a 2-1 lead with just under three minutes, in the contest, the attention immediately turned to former Pittsburgh Penguin Marc- Andre Fleury. Fleury, who was apart of three Stanley Cup runs with the Penguins was harassed by a much-improved Stars lineup for most of the contest.
Despite allowing the game’s first goal off a Jamie Benn deflection late in the second period, the two-time NHL all-star appeared to have found the edge that was lost in the latter stages of his time with Pittsburgh. He faced 46 shots on goal from a roster that boasts some of the NHL’s most potent offensive players in Alexander Radulov, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza and Benn. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Fleury’s 45 saves is the most for an expansion team’s first win since 1967.
Offensively, there were some hiccups while in the offensive that were a mix of miscommunication and Dallas’ aggressive attack. However, it was easy the presence that Neal delivers when he is on the ice.
Neal saw nearly 18 minutes of ice time, with 5:33 being spent on the power play. Facing a 1-0 deficit midway through the third period against the Stars, veteran forward James Neal showed the front office of the Nashville Predators that they might have made a mistake in opting to leave him unprotected in June’s Expansion Draft.
Coming onto the ice for a delayed penalty against the Stars, Neal sliced into the offensive zone free. As Nate Schmidt tossed the puck to an opening Neal, the 2001 No. 1 overall pick (Dallas Stars) made history.
However, it should also be added that both of his goals were recorded after Ben Bishop left the game after being struck in the forehead by an Eakin shot.
It may be just one game, but after waiting 442 days for Vegas to play its first NHL game, the events that unfolded Friday night gave NHL fans something to be excited about.
Prior the Friday night’s game, the Stars joined the Golden Knights for a moment to honor those affected by the horrendous attack that took place in Las Vegas last Sunday.
- Josh Zimmer is the Lead NFL Draft analyst for NGSC Sports as well as serving as a contributor for NHL coverage.
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