In the Golden Knights’ first game of the year, the unusual happened: A defenseman (Jon Merrill) played forward in an emergency and scored a goal and the Knights successfully killed a 6-on-3 disadvantage in the final 90 seconds.
Following the 5-4 victory over Philadelphia on Jan. 2, then-coach Gerard Gallant was asked a question he didn’t like. That was followed by a question about the importance of getting a signature win that he *really* didn’t like.
Gallant stormed out of the room, with the door slamming shut behind him.
And then, 2020 got really weird.
“There’s some mornings you wake up, and I’m sure I’m not alone here, it feels like 10 years,” Knights coach Pete DeBoer said recently of 2020. “It’s been a crazy set of circumstances, both in the hockey world, but more importantly, in the world.”
The coronavirus pandemic turned this into an unprecedented year, providing the melancholy backdrop for every significant event. The NHL was not immune to the range of emotions, from the pessimism of the pause to the optimism of the restart.
Here are the 10 most memorable moments of 2020 for the Knights:
10. Back in the capital
Almost a year after he was acquired from the Senators in a blockbuster trade, right wing Mark Stone returned to Ottawa for the first time and led the Knights to a 4-2 victory that snapped a four-game losing skid.
He set up Paul Stastny’s goal 34 seconds after the opening faceoff and also scored on a wraparound late in the first period after being honored with a video tribute.
Stone’s homecoming was overshadowed by DeBoer’s debut as coach, but more on that in a bit.
9. Hey now, you’re an all-star
Despite producing five 30-goal seasons during his time in Montreal, Max Pacioretty was never selected to participate in the NHL All-Star Game.
But when Anaheim’s Jakob Silfverberg’s dropped out to be there for the birth of his child, Pacioretty was named as his replacement in St. Louis.
Pacioretty had a goal and two assists in the two games as the Pacific Division won the 3-on-3 tournament. He also created several memories with his two oldest sons, who joined him on the ice during the skills competition.
8. ‘Big man can move’
Goalie Robin Lehner arrived with a reputation for staying deep in his crease and relying on his technique rather than instincts to make saves. He showed there is more to his game midway through Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals.
Lehner lunged to his left and made a glove stop on Vancouver’s Brock Boeser to keep the game scoreless. The Knights went on to win and Lehner solidified his role as the Knights’ No. 1 goalie with his third shutout of the series.
Afterward, Lehner was asked about the save and deadpanned, “Big man can move when he wants to.”
7. Home means Henderson
For their first three years, the Knights’ American Hockey League affiliate was located in Chicago. That meant long plane rides every time a player was called up or sent down.
In February, the organization announced it purchased the San Antonio AHL franchise and was relocating it to Henderson. The Silver Knights were born.
The new minor league franchise is expected to begin play this season at Orleans Arena and practice at Lifeguard Arena in Henderson. The Silver Knights will move into a new arena for the 2022-23 season.
6. Paying Petro
It’s not often that a Norris Trophy-caliber defenseman hits the free-agent market. When Alex Pietrangelo couldn’t agree to a contract with St. Louis, the Knights pounced with a seven-year, $61.6 million deal.
Pietrangelo is a two-time all star and captained the Blues to the Stanley Cup in 2019. Along with Shea Theodore, he gives the Knights a formidable blue line.
The price to land Pietrangelo was steep, however, as popular defenseman Nate Schmidt and center Paul Stastny were traded in separate cost-cutting moves.
5. Vegas Strong
Deryk Engelland helped heal the city following the Route 91 Harvest festival mass shooting, and his speech prior to the first regular-season home game is forever immortalized in Las Vegas sports history.
The hard-nosed defenseman, who made his NHL debut at age 27, announced his retirement in December after 11 seasons. Engelland started his professional playing career with the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL and didn’t want to wear another jersey after spending his final three seasons with the Knights.
Engelland, 38, is a longtime Las Vegas resident and will remain with the club as a special assistant to the owner.
4. Trading places
The Knights made a flurry of moves around the February deadline, including the acquisition of defenseman Alec Martinez from Los Angeles to provide playoff experience.
But it was the trade for Lehner that set off a series of events with aftershocks that are still being felt.
Lehner won the goaltending competition with Marc-Andre Fleury in the playoffs and signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the Knights this offseason. Most of all, his arrival was the impetus for …
3. The Tweet
At 1:54 p.m. Pacific time on Aug. 22, Fleury’s agent, Allan Walsh, sent a picture from his verified Twitter account of Fleury being stabbed through the back by a sword with “DeBoer” written on the blade. It was deleted the next morning.
The tweet brought the Knights’ goaltending controversy into the public, and Fleury was shopped around the league during the offseason. While he remains with the team, Fleury’s eventual departure appears inevitable.
Fleury was the face of the franchise after the expansion draft and a key figure in the Knights’ early success. But the tweet is a stain that can’t be removed from his time in Vegas.
2. Coaching change
The firing of Gallant on Jan. 15 was one of the franchise’s first “Where were you when …” moments.
Hiring DeBoer, the coach Gallant called a “clown” during the 2019 Western Conference quarterfinals, as his replacement was an even bigger shock.
DeBoer tweaked the systems and went 15-5-2, guiding the Knights to the division title and an appearance in the Western Conference Final. But he was brought in to win the Stanley Cup, and that’s how the move ultimately will be judged.
Meanwhile, Gallant remains out of a job.
1. The Pause
As cases of the coronavirus surged around the globe, the NHL season was suspended March 12. Almost five months later, the Knights traveled to Edmonton, Alberta, for a one-of-a-kind postseason.
The Knights and other teams were isolated from the general public in a “bubble” and played games with no fans in attendance. News conferences conducted on Zoom became the new routine.
The league could see limited attendance in arenas this season and hopes to return to normal for the 2021-22 season. But watching a hockey game might never be the same.