RALEIGH, N.C. — They’re the best team in all of hockey.
Let that marinate in your mind for a moment.
The expansion Golden Knights sit atop the overall standings in the NHL with 66 points after using a three-goal first period to beat the Carolina Hurricanes 5-1 Sunday at PNC Arena.
The Knights (31-11-4) have one more point than the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have led the league for a good part of the season. The win also put the bow on a successful four-game road swing through the South at 2-1-1.
“There’s a lot of hockey left to be played,” said Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who scored 2:55 into the game and triggered a three-goal outburst over a 10:04 span. “Obviously, everyone has worked hard to get to this point, and the entire organization has done a lot of good things.
Colin Miller and Jonathan Marchessault scored 39 seconds apart to make it 3-0 at 12:59, sending Hurricanes starting goaltender Scott Darling to the bench.
James Neal scored a second-period power-play goal, his 21st, and said the team’s achievement — first overall — is worth noting.
“To be honest, it’s impressive,” Neal said. “We’ve put the work in. Everybody has played for each other from day one. I’m really proud of the guys.
“That said, we’ve got a lot of work to do. We can get better, so we can keep this thing going. The leadership group here will make sure we continue to work hard and play for each other. When you do that, good things happen.”
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury turned aside 27 shots for his 11th victory. He knows what it’s like to be at the top from his days with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“It’s unexpected, but it has been a lot of fun seeing this team start from scratch, seeing the chemistry be built so quick between us,” Fleury said. “I’m proud to be where our team is at right now.”
Fleury’s play was key to Sunday’s win as he staved off a Hurricanes rally after they closed to within to 3-1 with 45 seconds left in the first period on Jaccob Slavin’s power-play goal.
The Hurricanes never mounted a serious threat and some in the crowd of 15,303 chanted, “Please, be better.”
“We had a good game tonight, and we know where we are,” said Knights coach Gerard Gallant. “But there’s a lot of hard work ahead for us, and we’re not gonna change a thing. There’s a long way to go.”
1. Better ending for Gallant. The last time Gerard Gallant was in PNC Arena, he lost his job after the Florida Panthers fired him Nov. 27, 2016 following a loss to the Hurricanes and he left in a cab for the airport. Gallant is now headed to the All-Star Game this weekend as the Pacific Division coach.
2. ‘Canes were flat. Playing the second of back-to-back games can’t be easy. The Hurricanes didn’t appear to have much jump and coach Bill Peters questioned the overall commitment of his guys, saying: “The expectations of where our guys need to be and what was provided wasn’t close.”
3. Carrier looking strong. Forward Will Carrier has played well since returning to the lineup Jan. 4. He really raised his play on the four-game road trip and was especially engaged Sunday, including setting up Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s first-period goal with a pretty backhand pass.
Steve Carp Las Vegas Review-Journal