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August 24, 2019

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Next one counts: Golden Knights ready for real games after dominant preseason

Vegas finishes exhibition slate as top team in the NHL

2018 Preseason: VGK vs Sharks

John Locher/AP

Vegas Golden Knights left wing Tomas Nosek celebrates after scoring against San Jose Sharks goaltender Martin Jones during the second period of a preseason NHL hockey game, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018, in Las Vegas.

2018 Preseason: VGK vs Sharks

Vegas Golden Knights center Jonathan Marchessault (81) and San Jose Sharks defenseman Justin Braun (61) vie for the puck during the first period of a preseason NHL hockey game Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018, in Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

Regardless of the sport, there’s always a debate over how much meaning should be assigned to preseason performance.

The consensus is not much, though it’s always more preferable to win than to lose, and the Vegas Golden Knights have done a lot of winning this preseason.

Vegas finished off its exhibition slate Sunday evening with a 5-2 home victory over the San Jose Sharks to bring its record to 6-1 in games that don’t ultimately matter.

“I think tonight’s game means a little more than the other ones, but you don’t put much into the preseason,” Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant said. “I’m happy we’re 6-1, I’d be disappointed if we were 1-6, but we played well and worked hard and I think we’re on the right track.”

The track leads to 7 p.m. Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena where the Golden Knights will start the regular season by hosting the Philadelphia Flyers.

Gallant, and Sharks coach Peter DeBoer, treated the preseason finale as close to a regular-season game as possible with the vast majority of the team’s projected contributors logging ice time. That included goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who had another stellar showing in net in his second appearance.

Fleury allowed a pair of power-play goals, but finished the preseason with 47 saves on 47 shot attempts in even-strength play. That’s only a start to the reasons for optimism shown by the defending Western Conference champions over the last two weeks.

Vegas’ special teams, as Gallant pointed out, have been outstanding. The Golden Knights led the NHL on the power play in preseason by converting nine of 22 chances, with Reilly Smith scoring a power-play goal in Sunday’s second period.

Vegas’ penalty kill went from efficient throughout the preseason to explosive against San Jose. The Golden Knights scored three shorthanded goals on Sunday with Tomas Nosek accounting for two of the scores.

“When you come back from the summer, you work your (butt) off to be a little better,” Pierre Eduodard-Bellemare said. “All of us do it; some do it better. Whatever (Nosek) did this summer is working.”

The Golden Knights managed four total shorthanded goals in the preseason; no other team scored more than one. They also posted a plus-18 goal differential — three more than any other team.

“All preseason was good for us,” Nosek said. “It’s good for confidence and feeling well.”

Nosek added that the team will need to maintain its focus over the next four days, as there’s always, “a lot of craziness,” going into the opener. The Golden Knights have Monday off from hockey, though the team will be making several community visits in remembrance of 1 October.

Final 23-man rosters are due to the NHL by 2 p.m. Tuesday, when the Golden Knights will have to cut down on its current forward depth. Oscar Lindberg, Ryan Carpenter and Daniel Carr are thought to be battling for the final spot.

Gallant said he would fully leave the personnel decision to General Manager George McPhee.

The Golden Knights will then start their regular routine Wednesday, with practice scheduled for 11 a.m. at City National Arena.

Fleury may have spoken for everyone with four words when asked for his final thoughts on preseason immediately after the win over the Sharks on the arena’s jumbotron.

“That’s it; let’s go,” Fleury said, to a roar from the preseason record 17,958 fans heading out of the arena.

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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