Friday, Oct. 5, 2018 | 12:45 a.m.
The Vegas Golden Knights lost their regular season opener Thursday night, just as the Pittsburgh Penguins did in 2015, the Boston Bruins did in 2010 and the Chicago Blackhawks did in 2009. In other words, teams that drop game ones go on to win Stanley Cups, so VGK fans need not panic despite the lopsided home defeat.
On the other hand, six of the NHL’s past nine champions have opened with a win, so if you’re the type of person who prefers to worry, there’s that. Also, coming off Thursday’s 5-2 loss to visiting Philadelphia, you could wring your hands because …
1. The Knights’ Nate Schmidt-less defense looked “soft,” to use their own coach’s word. “We gave them too much room and too much time and space in the neutral zone,” Gerard Gallant said during his postgame press conference. “We weren’t up and tight like we usually are, and they took advantage of it. … I just thought we played too soft.”
The Flyers operated without discomfort for much of the night, repeatedly sending cross-ice passes deep in the offensive zone to stay ahead of Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. “We left Flower out to dry there,” winger Max Pacioretty said after the game. “He’s the backbone of this team, so it’s frustrating. We’ll make it up to him next game.”
Jon Merrill and newcomer Nick Holden were on the ice for three of Philadelphia’s five goals. Deryk Engelland and Shea Theodore were out there for the other two, one of which came on a power play after Engelland broke his stick, leaving the Knights down a man and a stick. But Gallant was quick to call out more than his six blueliners.
“I don’t just mean the six defensemen; I mean our team defense,” he said. “I felt a couple of those goals, we gave them those goals. We had turnovers where if we would have worked harder to get back, those goals wouldn’t have happened.”
Schmidt, serving a 20-game suspension after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug, won’t be eligible to return until Nov. 18. It will be interesting to see if Gallant tweaks his pairings for game two against Minnesota, perhaps turning to returner Brad Hunt or rookie Jake Bischoff, both of whom were healthy scratches Thursday night.
2. Alex Tuch might be out for a while. The talented 22-year-old winger, who missed game one with an unspecified “lower body” injury (assumed to have occurred when he took a puck off his foot in Sunday’s preseason finale), has been termed “week-to-week,” rather than day-to-day by GM George McPhee. That doesn’t sound great.
Tuch was missed on Thursday, not only for his 6-foor-4, 220-pound frame, his quick skates and fast hands and his presence on the power play, but because of the ripple effect his absence had on the rest of the Knights’ line combinations.
Before the injury, Tuch was a possibility to man a spot on the team’s second line (he started there Sunday night, alongside Pacioretty and center Paul Stastny). Instead, Erik Haula — the team’s primary second-line center last season, served as a wing on the second line, which never fully clicked Thursday night. Tuch might also have played on the third line if healthy, bringing much-needed offensive firepower to a trio — Tomas Nosek, Ryan Carpenter and Oscar Lindberg — that struggled to generate much offensive push against Philadelphia.
3. The Golden Knights won’t be back at T-Mobile until Oct. 16, after playing their next five games on the road.
And it’s not just any five-game road trip. Over the span of eight days, Vegas will face Minnesota (which beat the Knights all three times the teams met last season), Buffalo, defending Stanley Cup champion Washington, Pittsburgh (which won back-to-back Cups before the Caps broke through) and the same Flyers who won here on Thursday.
The pessimists out there are surely already picturing the Knights taking the ice for their next home game on Oct. 16 against Buffalo with a 1-5 or 0-6 record, four or five games out in the Pacific Division, a month away from getting Schmidt back and still without a clear idea when Tuch will return.
Or they could be 4-2, back in first place, with Tuch anchoring the third line, the defense tightened up and Schmidt waiting in the wings.
We’ll find out soon enough.