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Vegas Golden Knights looking for fast start as they start NHL journey

DALLAS — The goal is simple — get off to a good start.

As the Golden Knights launch their inaugural season at 5 p.m. Friday at American Airlines Center against the Dallas Stars, they do so having had every opportunity to put a competitive team on the ice.

The league gave the expansion franchise, which paid a record $500 million fee to join in 2016, an extra year to prepare and get its hockey operations and business staffs together. The NHL provided the largest player pool ever for the team to select from in the expansion draft. The Knights had the No. 6 overall pick in the entry draft. They were allowed to make side deals to acquire other players and/or future draft picks.

Coach Gerard Gallant and his players cite the importance of establishing a winning culture and not falling out of the Pacific Division race in the first month. But the fact is that history does not work in the Knights’ favor.

Of the last eight NHL expansion teams, none produced a winning record in the first 10 games. The closest were the Tampa Bay Lightning, which went 4-5-1 in the 1992-93 season. The Lightning finished 23-54-7.

The Florida Panthers, the most successful team of recent expansion who finished 33-34-17 in 1992-93, started 2-5-3. The Anaheim Ducks, who also began play that season, went 33-46-5 after opening 2-6-2.

But the Knights have their own ideas, buoyed by a schedule that appears set up for early success. Of the team’s first 10 games, seven will be at T-Mobile Arena, starting with what should be an emotional home opener against the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday.

“There’s a lot of experienced guys in this room who’ve played in the NHL and an experienced coaching staff,” center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said. “It really doesn’t feel like an expansion team to me.”

Defenseman Luca Sbisa said: “You gotta keep it simple. We have to play with no hesitation and trust one another. Everyone has to buy in to what the coach is saying and believe in the system we’re playing.”

That system is about playing with pace, outworking the opponent and not trying to get too fancy. But the lineup that will look to execute that system was still in a state of flux Thursday.

In a stunning move, backup goaltender Calvin Pickard was waived, which means Malcolm Subban will back up Marc-Andre Fleury, who will start in goal Friday.

Center Vadim Shipachyov is expected to be recalled in time to play after he was sent to Chicago of the American Hockey League on Tuesday. The Knights may also have forward James Neal back for the opener. He was still on injured reserve Thursday, but the move was retroactive to before training camp and he can be activated at any time. Neal was recovering from surgery on his right hand.

Yet questions remain. The Knights squandered 21 straight power play opportunities in the preseason, which saw them go 3-4. Gallant continues to seek continuity for his forward lines. The defense looked shoddy at times, turning the puck over or simply getting out-skated by the opposition’s forwards creating odd-man chances.

But there aren’t any more dress rehearsals. The evaluations are complete. Friday, it begins for real.

“We’re ready,” Gallant said. “We’ve worked hard the last three weeks. I like our team. I like our guys. We’re as ready as we’re going to be.”

Contact Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow @stevecarprj on Twitter.

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