Flyers at Golden Knights
The fairy-tale expansion season of the Vegas Golden Knights perhaps was so far-fetched that Hollywood likely would have rejected the script on the basis that it stretched the boundaries of believability. After capturing the sports world by storm, the Golden Knights aim to take the first steps toward a return trip to the Stanley Cup Finals on Thursday when they open the 2018-19 campaign against the visiting Philadelphia Flyers.
"I think there's more expectations from the players, the staff and the fans. I think everybody expects us to do as well," goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said. "At the same time, though, if you want to have success, we can't be thinking about all that stuff. You've just got to be worrying about playing your game the way you can and success will come." The 33-year-old Fleury set Sin City on fire last season with career-best marks in goals-against average (.2.24) and save percentage (.927) and has flustered Philadelphia to the tune of a 28-18-2 career record. The Flyers enter his season with James van Riemsdyk (career-high 36 goals) rejoining the club to solidify an impressive top six, although the team's age-old question of goaltending remains in play until prized prospect Carter Hart is ready to be elevated from the minors. Brian Elliott is expected to garner the majority of time between the pipes for the Flyers, who were bounced in the first round by their Keystone State-rival Pittsburgh Penguins last season.
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ABOUT THE FLYERS (42-26-14, 3RD IN METROPOLITAN): Van Riemsdyk signed a five-year contract with Philadelphia this summer to reunite and with captain Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier and Wayne Simmonds, with whom he played during his first three seasons in the City of Brotherly Love. The 29-year-old van Riemsdyk will play on a line with last year's No. 2 pick of the NHL Draft in Nolan Patrick as well as Voracek. Travis Konecny likely will slot on the first line with Giroux (102 points) and Couturier, who set career highs in goals (31), assists (45) and points (76) before falling just short in the voting for the Selke Trophy. "(Playing with Couturier and Giroux) gave me the confidence to make plays and not be afraid to try to step up and maybe make a big play," Konecny said.
ABOUT THE GOLDEN KNIGHTS (51-24-7, 1ST IN PACIFIC): Flanked by top-line representatives Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson recorded career highs in goals (43), assists (35) and points (78) as well as a league-best plus-49 rating last season. The 25-year-old Swede, who won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy to boot, avoided arbitration and signed a one-year, $5.25 million contract in the summer. Paul Stastny (Winnipeg) and five-time 30-goal scorer Max Pacioretty (Montreal) are expected to join Erik Haula on the second line and essentially replace the departed David Perron (St. Louis) and James Neal (Calgary). "I just like our team. It’s not about our first line or our second line. It’s about 23 guys on our team playing the game the right way," coach Gerard Gallant said.
1. Vegas boasted an 11th-ranked power play (21.4 percent) last season while Philadelphia ranked 29th in penalty kill (75.8).
2. Philadelphia's Shayne Gostisbehere's 65 points were fourth-most among NHL defensemen in 2017-18.
3. Vegas' Shea Theodore, Deryk Engelland and Brayden McNabb will be looked upon to pick up the slack in the absence of fellow D Nate Schmidt, who will miss the first 20 games of the season for violating the terms of the NHL/NFLPA performance-enhancing substances program.