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Golden Knights open challenging five-game homestand

There’s no denying the fact the Golden Knights have enjoyed playing at T-Mobile Arena.

Their 11-2 record bears that out. Yes, there have been some close calls along the way, overtime wins over Buffalo, St. Louis, San Jose and Arizona and a shootout win over Anaheim. But wins are wins, no matter how you get them.

Now, the Knights, who have won four straight after suffering a three-game losing streak in late November and early December, play their next five games at home, starting Tuesday against Carolina.

More important, they start the homestand with their best goaltender back at work as Marc-Andre Fleury was activated Sunday after spending almost two months on injured reserve following a concussion suffered Oct. 13 against Detroit.

They know this is a great opportunity. Yet, it will be a challenge.

“We’re going to see some good teams, no question,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “But we don’t look ahead. Out focus is on Carolina. They’re a good young team with a lot of skill.”

Fleury’s old team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, are the opponent Thursday. That means facing Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel. Sunday, Gallant’s old team, the Florida Panthers, are in town, and even though the Panthers are at the bottom when it comes to goals against, they can be pesky to play against.

On the 19th, Tampa Bay, the NHL’s best and most explosive team comes to town. That means Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov, three of the league’s highest-scoring forwards. The homestand wraps up Dec. 23 against Washington and Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov, the Capitals’ trio of skilled offensive stars.

Clear No. 1

Forget about a goaltending controversy, as Gallant said Monday that a healthy Fleury would get the majority of starts going forward.

Malcolm Subban was sixth in the league in goals-against average (2.33) and eighth in save percentage (.924) among qualifying goalies before Monday’s games.

“Fleury’s been our No. 1 man, and that’s the plan and we’re going to see how things go,” Gallant said. “He hasn’t played in two months, so there’s going to be a part of the schedule where Fleury plays some important games and he’s probably going to play more games than the plan was earlier on in the year. Plans change every day.”

Carrier skates

Injured forward William Carrier (upper body) practiced Monday at City National Arena for the first time since he was injured Nov. 25 at Arizona. Carrier was wearing a red noncontact jersey during practice.

“He’s got to go through the protocol, and he’s close,” Gallant said. “He skated real hard and said he felt good.”

Contact Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow @stevecarprj on Twitter. Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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