As an expansion team, the Golden Knights are going to experience a lot of things for the first time.
That includes adversity.
With Marc-Andre Fleury sidelined with a concussion and centers Jonathan Machessault and Erik Haula also out with lower-body injuries, the Knights returned to the ice Sunday at T-Mobile Arena against the Boston Bruins staring into the face of a tough situation.
But Alex Tuch and Vadim Shipachyov, two players who weren’t on the Knights’ roster for Friday’s demoralizing loss to Detroit, scored in their debuts and Malcolm Subban turned aside 20 of 21 shots in his debut, giving the Knights a 3-1 victory.
Also making their season debuts after being healthy scratches the first four games were defensemen Jon Merrill and Brad Hunt.
“The guys played unbelievable in front of me,” said the 23-year-old Subban, who was playing in only his third NHL game and lost his shutout bid with 30 seconds left after David Pastrnak managed to bank the puck off him and into the net. “There weren’t a whole lot of great scoring chances. I was able to make easy saves.”
Knights coach Gerard Gallant pointed to how his entire team bounced back from Friday’s 6-3 loss to Detroit which saw Fleury, Marchessault and Haula all go down and be placed on the injured reserve list.
“We probably played our most complete game of the year,” Gallant said of the Knights, who improved to 4-1. “They’re character guys and they want to win every night.”
The Knights were responsible in their defensive end of the ice for most of the night and Subban was solid throughout. He only had to come up big a couple of times as his defense and his forwards did a great job of gathering rebounds and covering the Bruins’ shooters. The announced crowd of 17,562 loved the effort, chanting “Suuu” with every save.
“The biggest thing was staying in the moment,” Subban said. “I was just focusing on the play in front of me.”
Subban said he talked to Fleury on Sunday morning. Fleury’s advice?
“Just go out, play my game and have fun,” Subban said. “(Fleury) was very supportive. I just did my thing in the net.”
David Prior, the Knights’ goaltending coach, has been working with Subban since his arrival Oct. 3 after being claimed off waivers from Boston. Prior saw a confident, relaxed person between the pipes.
“We just wanted him to execute,” Prior said. “Nothing fancy. Just stop the puck. If you execute, everything else falls into place.”
As for Tuch and Shipachyov, getting their first NHL goals in a game that was going to help define this team’s character was proof that general manager George McPhee knew what he was doing when he brought them into the Knights’ organization.
Tuch, who had been playing in the American Hockey League with the Chicago Wolves and had five goals in three games before being recalled early Sunday, beat Tuukka Rask with a wrist shot from inside the right faceoff circle with 5:22 remaining in the second period.
Shipachyov, who hadn’t even skated with the team since being reassigned to the Wolves, practiced Saturday, then rapped home a rebound of Tuch’s shot with 2:14 left in the second period.
“They were tremendous,” Gallant said of Tuch and Shipachyov. “They’re both very good hockey players and to see them deliver for us the way they did was big.”