Updated July 30, 2020 - 11:29 pm
Not since the Golden Knights’ inaugural season has there been an exhibition game more anticipated than Thursday’s.
After more than four months away, the Knights picked up where they left off.
Reilly Smith scored twice in the first period as the Knights grabbed a 4-1 victory over Arizona at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta.
“There was a flurry in the third where they grabbed some momentum, some power plays where we got on our heels a bit,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “But for sure through the first 40, 45 minutes of the game, I really liked how we put pressure on them offensively and didn’t give up much defensively.”
The Knights, who won 11 of their final 13 games before the season was paused March 12 because of the coronavirus pandemic, saw plenty to build on before they open round-robin play against Dallas on Monday.
Smith helped the Knights win the special teams battle, as he scored short-handed and converted on a power play later in the first period. The Knights finished 1-for-6 (11 shots) on the power play.
Nick Cousins added an empty-net goal and two assists, and Alex Tuch finished with a goal and an assist as part of a seven-point effort from the third line.
“When we have all our lines going, and I think we did tonight, it’s really tough on teams,” Smith said. “I think (the fourth) line did a great job being able to change momentum. In every game, other teams are going to get different momentum swings, and they did a good job shutting them down and we were able to build off that and create offense.”
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury got the start and turned in a solid effort as he battles with Robin Lehner for the No. 1 job.
Fleury, who missed the first three practices during training camp, finished with 22 saves after a quiet first period when the Coyotes were held without a shot for more than 17 minutes.
Taylor Hall had Arizona’s goal at 9:14 of the third period when he poked home a loose puck after a scramble in front.
“Maybe at the start they brought it to us a bit, but we didn’t take too long,” Fleury said. “Our guys found their legs and played very solid. They have a lot of speed on that team, but I thought we matched it, no problem. Like I said before, we controlled the puck a lot and created a lot offensively. It was fun to watch guys go.”
The Knights played without left wing Max Pacioretty, who remains in Las Vegas to rehabilitate what DeBoer termed a “minor injury.”
Pacioretty, the team’s leading scorer during the regular season with 32 goals and 66 points, was replaced by Chandler Stephenson on the first line against Arizona.
Smith notched a career-high 27 goals during the regular season and provided the offense for the Knights in the first period.
The winger forced a turnover and finished off a two-on-one with penalty kill partner William Karlsson at 8:42 and converted on a power play after Jonathan Marchessault drew a tripping penalty on Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun.
Smith dragged the puck around Arizona’s Alex Goligoski and snapped a shot from the left hashmark past goalie Darcy Kuemper’s glove at 16:23.
“I think we were probably a little sloppy at the start,” Smith said. “It seemed like there was a lot of bodies running into each other at the start of the game. I thought we did a good job cleaning it up after that.”
Physical winger Ryan Reaves created a talking point with about six minutes remaining in the second period when he decked Arizona’s Nick Schmaltz with a check to the head.
Schmaltz was forced to leave the game, and the hit will put Reaves back in the spotlight entering the postseason.
Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt left with about eight minutes to play, but DeBoer said Schmidt cramped up and was removed as a precaution.
“I’ve said this before, ‘You’re never as good as you think you are, and you’re never as bad as you think you are’ after a game,” DeBoer said. “I’m sure there’s some areas we can clean up but, you know, overall, considering the circumstances, I thought we came in and did a real good job of carrying over a real good camp into the first exhibition game. We want to build on that.”