James Neal is on pace to score 137 goals this season.
Obviously, that’s not going to happen. But while the Golden Knights’ veteran forward rides a hot hand with five goals in his first three games, Neal can take comfort in the fact his teammates are starting to join him on the stat sheet.
The Knights are starting to find some offensive balance. Forwards Oscar Lindberg and Tomas Nosek found the back of the net along with defenseman Deryk Engelland in Tuesday’s 5-2 win over Arizona at T-Mobile Arena. Forward Brendan Leipsic had two assists, and all four lines had at least one point against the Coyotes.
“Yeah, it felt good to see one go in,” said Nosek, who owns the distinction of having scored the first home goal for the Knights. “I’ve been getting a lot of good chances, so I was happy to finally score.”
From coach Gerard Gallant’s perspective, it was just a matter of time.
“If we’re going to be a successful team in our first year, it’s going to be a team effort,” he said Thursday of his four lines. “It can’t be one line or one guy scoring a lot of our goals for us.
“No matter what team you’re with, that’s what every coach says, you need scoring from your lineup, and it’s great when you’ve got guys like Nosek and those chipping in, and Engelland chipping in the other night. If we can get that, we’re going to win a lot of hockey games.”
The fact the third and fourth lines are making things happen is a sign that the chemistry is evolving. In addition to Leipsic’s two assists, Erik Haula, who centers the third line that includes William Karlsson, had an assist for his first point of the season. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who centers the fourth line that includes Nosek and Will Carrier, also had an assist against the Coyotes for his first point.
“It’s early in the season,” Leipsic said. “I’m trying to keep things simple, find myself and get used to my teammates. When I get my chances, I’m trying to take advantage of them.”
As for the current second line of Lindberg, Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault, only Marchessault has yet to dent the score sheet. But he has had some quality chances and Gallant said it’s just a matter of time before Marchessault, a 30-goal scorer last year with the Florida Panthers, breaks through.
“I’m not worried,” said Gallant, who coached Marchessault in Florida. “It’s only three games. (Marchessault) knows how to score. He just needs to have one go in for him and he’ll be fine.”
Meanwhile, the Knights’ top line of Neal, Cody Eakin and David Perron continues to produce. Perron has two assists and Eakin one. But both are getting good looks at the net when they’re not trying to set up Neal and they’ve found a comfort level playing alongside each other.
“It gets better with every game,” Perron said. “Obviously, James is off to a fast start and we’re looking for him. But we’re also trying to score as well. It’s been a lot of fun so far playing with (Neal and Eakin).”
Detroit Red Wings
7:30 p.m., Friday, T-Mobile Arena
— The Skinny: The Red Wings got defenseman Niklas Kronwall back Thursday after he missed the first three games of the season with a tweaked groin. Detroit wraps up a four-game road trip Friday.
— Top scorers: Defenseman Mike Green, who turned 32 Thursday, leads the Red Wings in scoring over the first three games with six assists. Right wing Anthony Mantha has two goals and two assists in his first three games.
— Goaltender: Jimmy Howard, 2-0, 1.44 goals-against average, .961 save percentage. The 33-year-old from Syracuse, New York, is in his 12th NHL season and is a two-time NHL All-Star (2012, 2015).
— Founded: 1926
— Last Stanley Cup: 2008 (11 total)
— Did you know: One of the NHL’s original six teams, the Red Wings play in the league’s newest building, Little Caesars Arena, which opened Sept. 5.
Three storylines to follow
1. Defense playing offense. The Golden Knights defense has scored in each of the last two games, a sign that it is getting comfortable working with the forwards and each other. Nate Schmidt in particular has picked up his level of play.
2. Penalty killers excel. Both the Knights and Red Wings have excellent penalty killing units. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Reilly Smith and William Karlsson have helped the Knights kill off all but one of 10 shorthanded situations in the first three games, good for eighth in the league. Detroit’s Frans Nielsen has long been one of the NHL’s best penalty killers going back to his days with the New York Islanders. The Red Wings are sixth in the league on the penalty kill.
3. Emotional letdown? The Knights were able to channel their emotions Tuesday following the pregame ceremony. Friday, there will be another pregame ceremony, one more celebratory and upbeat as the team’s mascots make their debut and other fun elements are unveiled. Will they remain focused? Or will they suffer a bit of a letdown?
Steve Carp/Las Vegas Review-Journal