On a night the city turned to its first major league sports franchise to help it heal, the Golden Knights made history.
The Knights became the first NHL expansion team to begin its inaugural season 3-0 after routing the Arizona Coyotes 5-2 on Tuesday at T-Mobile Arena in the franchise’s first home game.
The 1967 Los Angeles Kings and ’67 Oakland Seals both started 2-0 only to tie their third games. The Knights scored four times in the first 10:42 against the Coyotes and gave the announced sellout crowd of 18,191 something to cheer about. It followed an emotional pregame ceremony that honored the first responders, law enforcement, firefighters and medical personnel who assisted following the Oct. 1 shooting massacre on the Strip.
“This was the game I wanted to play in,” said forward James Neal, who continued his hot hand by scoring two first-period goals — giving him five in his first three games. “I didn’t know if I would make it to Dallas or Arizona but I pointed to this game. I wanted to play in the first home game.”
The team honored the first responders as “Heroes of Vegas.” They were brought on to the ice where they were joined by the Knights players and coaches. The Coyotes joined the Knights on the blue line in a show of support.
“It was perfect,” majority owner Bill Foley said of the ceremony. “We wanted to do the right thing and send the right message. Our players have been fantastic throughout these last nine days and I’m so proud of them.”
Foley was also proud of his team’s start.
The puck officially dropped at 7:46 p.m. to usher in Las Vegas’ entry into the big leagues. Two minutes, 32 seconds in, Tomas Nosek’s wrist shot from the left face-off circle went through the legs of Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta and the Knights were off to the races.
Deryk Engelland made it 2-0 at the 4:18 mark as his slap shot from the right point sailed over Raanta’s shoulder. Engelland had given an emotional speech during the pregame ceremony and the goal had the Coyotes on their heels.
Then it was Neal’s turn. The team’s hero of the first two wins scored twice in a 4:27 span to increase the lead to 4-0. The first, a wrist shot off a rebound of Brayden McNabb’s shot from the point, made it 3-0 and sent Raanta to the Arizona bench. He had allowed three goals in just five shots.
Neal’s second goal came during a power play as he took a cross-ice feed from Reilly Smith and beat backup goalie Louis Domingue. It broke an 0-for-12 skid for the Knights with the man advantage to start the season.
Neal has five goals in three games. He needed 14 games to get to five goals last season when he was a member of the Nashville Predators.
Arizona’s goals came off a deflection by Tobias Rieder of Niklas Hjalmarsson’s shot from the point. Rider had scored the Coyotes’ lone goal in Saturday’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Knights.
The Knights added one late in the second period as Brendan Leipsic made a blind, backhand pass to Oscar Lindberg at the right face-off circle and Lindberg put it past Domingue to make it 5-1. Arizona’s Kevin Connauton finished the scoring with a late third-period goal.
“It’s a whirlwind,” Leipsic said of the spectrum of emotions he was feeling afterward. “Tonight, this was more than hockey.”