LAS VEGAS — Emotions figure to be at a fever pitch Tuesday night when the Vegas Golden Knights become the first major sports franchise in the city’s glittery history to play a home game when they face the Arizona Coyotes at T-Mobile Arena.
Before the puck is dropped, the team will honor victims and first responders from the horrific shooting that killed 58 people and injured hundreds more nine days earlier at a concert a little over a block away from the arena.
The 15-minute ceremony will take place before the Golden Knights (2-0-0) play the Coyotes (0-1-1) for the second time in four nights. Vegas rallied for a 2-1 overtime victory over Arizona on Saturday night in Glendale, Ariz.
“It’s will be real emotional (because) of what happened here in Vegas,” Golden Knights left winger James Neal, who has three goals in two games, including both game-winners, said Monday. “We’re trying to do everything we can to bring a positive light to the city and bring this city together. I think we’ve gotten off to a good start in doing that. Tomorrow is going to be an amazing night.”
The big question is how the Golden Knights will handle everything that comes with the first home opener in franchise history combined with all the emotions that figure to spill over from honoring the shooting victims and first responders.
“We’ve got to channel those emotions and use them to our advantage and come out strong,” Vegas defenseman Deryk Engelland said.
“It’s not going to be your typical opener,” Golden Knights general manager George McPhee said Monday. “Tomorrow night is not about us, it’s about honoring the victims, their families and the first responders. It’s been for this country, and this city, an incredibly emotional experience.
“I don’t know how our players will shift gears into playing mode. I don’t know how the ceremony will transition into the game. We’ll do our best.”
So far that’s been more than enough for the expansion Golden Knights, who opened the season with a 2-1 victory at Dallas on Friday thanks to two third period goals by Neal and 45 saves by goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
“I don’t think we could have (written a better script),” Neal said. “I think everybody was just excited to get going. Everything that has happened in the city, and to be here where we are, be able to start our first home game with a 2-0 record, is pretty special.”
Arizona comes in winless but very well could be 2-0 itself with better finishes.
The Coyotes led 4-1 in their opener at Anaheim before losing 5-4. They aso led 1-0 for most of the Saturday loss to Vegas, but defenseman Nate Schmidt tied it with 1:12 remaining after the Golden Knights had pulled Fleury for an extra attacker. Neal then scored the game-winner 3:46 into overtime when he slid the puck under goalie Antti Raanta’s right pad.
“That’s something we have to learn, to close games down,” Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson told azcentral.com. “But at the same time, we didn’t play good enough to win that game.”
One bright spot was the play of Raanta, making his first start in net for Arizona. Raanta, expected to be the team’s No. 1 starter, made 40 saves in the loss.
“He was unbelievable,” said Arizona winger Tobias Rieder, who backhanded a rebound past Fleury for the Coyotes’ only goal. “He held us in that game.”