What has seemed like a lifetime has finally passed as the Vegas Golden Knights played a real-ish
hockey game. Thursday night brought their lone exhibition contest, before they will be thrown into a murderer's row of a three-game Round Robin.
This summer presented an interesting opportunity for Head Coach Pete DeBoer and the Golden Knights. They got their first training camp together, but not one that culminates with a somewhat meaningless regular season. This camp leads the club into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
With a win under their belt, the team will now look forward to the Round Robin, where they'll play the three other best teams in the Western Conference. Despite some opposition, the exhibition game was important and we did learn a few things in the process.
Reilly Smith is Still Really Good:
One of the original Golden "Misfits", Reilly Smith has been a consistent contributor for the Golden Knights since 2017. He has donned the Assistant Captain A since that time and has been a steady point producer. He works both Special Teams units and is an invaluable member of the team.
In their very first game back, the guy who tends to fly under the radar despite his production, put the league on notice. Smith notched the first two goals of the game and in doing so, showed off his versatility.
Smith's first goal came on the penalty kill, where he has been reunited with longtime linemate William Karlsson. The two men created a turnover at their own blueline which sprung a 2-on-1 rush. Karlsson sent a saucer pass across to Smith, who seems to bury every one of those he sees.
His next goal came approximately eight minutes later, also in the first period, when he fired a wrist shot through Darcy Kuemper. At that point, it was clear that Smith was feeling it. Unsurprisingly, prior to the restart the Assistant Captain was unwavering in the importance of special teams play.
"Special teams can be huge.....They can change a game and a series."
After watching him play the exhibition game, that he admittedly thought the team didn't need, it's clear to see his emphasis and effectiveness on Special Teams. With a lead by example mentality and the calming demeanor needed, Smith gives the Golden Knights a valuable skillset for a long playoff run.
Heading into the exhibition game, Marc-Andre Fleury was named the starter by DeBoer. He also went on to say that Robin Lehner will get the first Round Robin game. This led me down speculation alley.
Fleury played well against the Coyotes, stopping 22 of 23 shots on goal. Nevertheless, DeBoer's usage had me wondering, did he give Fleury the first one out of respect? Did he simply give him the one that didn't matter, giving Lehner two games that "count"? What gives?
In the regular season, both goalies split time right down the middle, alternating games. Lehner outperformed the incumbent starter, to the tune of a 3-0-0 record. It seems that DeBoer will continue this split, but for how long? The Round Robin games could be an audition for both men because as I covered a few days ago, Stanley Cup winners tend to ride one guy.
Alex Tuch is Good and You Should Love Him:
He's big, he's fast, he's young, and to some he's really, really good looking. Yeah, I said it. Seriously, Alex Tuch is as the Spittin' Chiclets boys would affectionately say, a 'man rocket'. He's got the skill, he's got the swagger, and sadly he's got the ire of a bunch of Golden Knights fans.
When the Golden Knights brought Tuch in back in 2017, he came with very little acclaim. It didn't take long for the fans to realize how good the kid could be. He started Year One in the AHL, for contract purposes, but once he got the call, he performed.
His first two seasons yielded 15 and 20 goals respectively, despite injuries and playing on a mostly ineffective 2018-19 third line. His first half was stellar last season, before he really fell from grace. His 2019-20 calendar years haven't been as rewarding.
Back to the first sentence: he's young! Guys like Tuch, those who possess so much skill and promise, also go through adjustment periods. He looked fast, healthy, and rejuvenated in the exhibition game. His goal - Vegas' third of the night - showed exactly what he can do. He'd finish the game with two points.
Tuch initially was not on the ice for his line's shift, he's young. Once he hopped the boards, he found a seam and split the Coyotes defensemen - he's fast. Jacob Chychrun couldn't hang with him and made a feeble diving attempt. Tuch then weaved around him, through the slot, spun, and flung a crisp sharp angle wrist shot. His laser ended up in the far-side top corner, past Antii Raanta.
He had no right scoring this goal. It was downright rude. And it was on an extremely solid goaltender, at that!
Watch as Alex Tuch manages to score on Antti Raanta from almost right along the goal line, extending the Golden Knights' lead over the Coyotes in their exhib...
Very few players can make that play. Tuch's size, speed, and hockey IQ made that play. Did he show some inexperience missing his faceoff; maybe? Was it a product of a bench that is still trying to gel, possibly? Was it a play that Golden Knights fans should be happy to see and therefore love thy Tuch; definitely!
Now that their unnecessary exhibition game is complete, the team looks forward to a Monday evening tilt with the fourth-seeded Dallas Stars. The Stars are the only team in the Round Robin who could improve their position more than the Golden Knights and might be a handful because of it. Meanwhile, Vegas is hoping to get Max Pacioretty back in the lineup before then, although Chandler Stephenson did a fine job as the top line's LW.
Be sure to follow along and discuss the game with me on Twitter! I will be watching very closely!