GLENDALE, Ariz. — This hero stuff seems to be agreeing with James Neal.
The veteran forward delivered for the second straight night, as his goal 3:46 into overtime Saturday lifted the Golden Knights to a 2-1 come-from-behind win over the Arizona Coyotes before a sellout crowd of 17,125 at Gila River Arena.
“You have to play a patient, simple game and wait for your chances,” Neal said. “I think that’s what we did.”
Neal helped get the Knights even, as his shot from the blue line was stopped by Arizona goaltender Antti Raanta. But defenseman Nate Schmidt skated to the net undetected and put the rebound past Raanta to tie it with 1:12 to play.
“It’s funny, I saw all this empty space and (Neal) was at the point, so I decided to head to the net,” Schmidt said of his goal, which was recorded as unassisted despite Neal throwing it at the net. “I don’t think they were expecting me there.”
The Knights had pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra attacker with 2:18 left after Fleury again was exceptional in the net. He stopped 27 of 28 shots, and his play helped the Knights come away with four points in their first two NHL games.
“He was great again, but so was their goalie,” Knights coach Gerard Gallant said. “He gave us a chance to win again.”
Neal’s game-winner came off some great work from David Perron during the 3-on-3 OT. Perron maintained control of the puck and found Neal alone in front. Neal took care of the rest, as he picked up his third goal in two games.
Tobias Reider’s first-period goal appeared as if it would stand up for the Coyotes. But the Knights put tremendous pressure on Raanta and eventually solved him
“Nobody was panicking on the bench,” Schmidt said. “We were getting our chances. It was just a matter of getting one to go in.”
Gallant has been preaching simplicity since the start of training camp. He never gets hung up on systems of play. He just wants his players to go out and execute each shift. The Knights did that for the most part, and their eventual 44-28 edge in shots paid off.
Neal, who is still rounding into form after missing most of training camp after offseason surgery on his broken right hand, hasn’t lost anything when it comes to his hockey IQ. He seems to know where to be at the right moment, as evident by his play in the first two games.
“I’m getting more comfortable with my linemates, and I think we can be a pretty good line,” Neal said of playing with Cody Eakin and David Perron. “We’re all unselfish, and we seem to work together pretty well so far.”
Gallant said of Neal and his heroics: “He’s playing with confidence, and I hope he can play like that every night because he can be a great player for us.”
The Knights will come home Tuesday for their first home game, facing Arizona again. They’ll do so as an undefeated team atop the Pacific Division standings at 2-0.
“We got four points out of a tough road trip,” Gallant said. “You know it’s a long year. But we’re off to a great start.
“I thought five of the six periods we’ve played so far we executed really well. If we continue to do that, we’ll have a chance to win every game we play.”
Knights 2, Coyotes 1 (OT)
Three takeaways from Saturday’s win:
1. David Perron is a beast. The veteran forward is so hard to take off the puck when he has it. And he is such a dogged forechecker that he creates turnovers. His play was a big reason James Neal was able to be the hero in overtime, as Perron held on to the puck, waited for Neal to get open, then found him with a spot-on pass.
2. The penalty kill is alive and well. The Knights killed off three Arizona power plays, and the work of Reilly Smith, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Cody Eakin and Will Karlsson has been exceptional. It took a great redirect from Tyler Seguin of Dallas on Friday to get a power-play goal against the Knights. Otherwise, it has been perfect.
3. The power play continues to struggle. On Friday, they were 0 of 7. On Saturday, they were 0 of 4, including a 5 on 3 for 1:14 in the second period. One day, the Knights will score on the power play (pulling Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra attacker doesn’t count as a power play). They keep trying to make the perfect play, when just getting pucks to the net and going hard after rebounds and setting screens would seem to be more effective.