**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2019-20 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**
And so it begins.
Year Three of the Golden Knights, a franchise which has done some remarkable things in its brief existence begins tonight at T-Mobile Arena. It’s a team that has a special relationship with its city and its fans. It’s a group of players who are yearning for a return to the inaugural season, except with a different outcome this time around.
“Cup in three” is the mantra from the owner, from the fans, from the owners of this very website. They believe it with every fiber of their being that this is the year.
Of course, the owners, fans and website operators from the other 30 NHL teams are thinking the same thing. For some, it’s more fantasy than reality. But when it’s opening night and everyone is 0-0, why shouldn’t every Ottawa Senators fan, every Anaheim Ducks fan, be at least a bit optimistic?
Here, it’s not about optimism. It’s about expectations. And the bar has been set relatively high. There’s continuity and stability throughout the organization. Yes, some pieces are gone (Erik Haula, Colin Miller, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Nikita Gusev), but others appear ready to take their place (Cody Glass, Jimmy Schuldt, Valentin Zykov). And the core remains in place.
Go ahead and dissect the roster. Look hard enough, you’ll find flaws. Every team has ’em. You will also find enough talent and experience to handle any shortcomings.
Aren’t you glad Mark Stone didn’t join Erik Karlsson in San Jose? Aren’t you pleased William Karlsson is going to be here for a long time? Aren’t you excited to see what Glass can do in an NHL game that counts?
And aren’t you glad nobody got popped for flunking a drug test and has to miss the first 20 games of the season?
Yes, it’s disappointing that Alex Tuch will once again miss opening night for the third straight year. But remember, it’s a long season. And as Marc-Andre Fleury proved in Year One, it’s all about April — and beyond.
So what am I looking forward to with this team in Year Three? In no particular order:
* Watching Paul Stastny perform his magic with his passing.
* Seeing Stone come back in the defensive zone, pick an opponent’s pocket and head the other way in making his case for a Selke Trophy.
* Watching Cody Eakin win a big defensive zone faceoff late in a game with the Knights trying to protect a one-goal lead.
* Getting double digits of goal cellys from Ryan Reaves.
* Hearing Jonathan Marchessault tell it like it is in the dressing room totally unfiltered, win or lose.
* Seeing Max Pacioretty piss off the opposition.
* Having Brandon Pirri come back into the defensive end and break up a play and bring a smile to Gerard Gallant’s face for doing so.
* A power play that doesn’t regularly go 0-4. That’s 0 … for … 4 (Sorry, an inside joke for media only).
* Watching Zykov stand up for himself when teams try to run him.
* Charting Glass’s development. Ditto for Schuldt, Nic Hague and perhaps Zach Whitecloud once he gets healthy and assuming they get a chance to wear a Knights sweater instead of a Chicago Wolves’ jersey.
* Watching Tomas Nosek kill penalties, then explain in Czech afterward how he was so successful doing it.
* Hoping Reilly Smith hits the net more often than not.
* Talking Minnesota hockey with Nate Schmidt and about Saskatchewan with Brayden McNabb.
* Praying fellow cancer survivor Shea Theodore stays out of chemo or radiation forever.
* Hoping that if this is Deryk Engelland’s last year, he goes out with more than a Campbell Bowl.
* Expecting continued improvement from Jon Merrill.
* Having Tommy Cruz, the team’s video coach, being right more than wrong when it comes to challenges, even though he’s not allowed to speak to us about what he saw.
* Seeing Fleury ply his trade.
* Having an off-the-record conversation with George McPhee over a cup of coffee and just talking hockey (though on the record would be better).
* Ditto for Gallant, though I’ll let him swap coffee for Coke Zero.
Yeah, that’s a long list. But hey, it’s a long season. And crazy things happen over the course of 82 games, not to mention the playoffs.
Which brings me to tonight.
In light of the events of Sunday’s preseason finale, everyone is expecting a continuation of the buffoonery tonight. I don’t think that’s going to happen.
Why? A few reasons.
For starters, Evander Kane’s not playing. The league tagged him with a three-game suspension for abuse of an official. It also means Kane doesn’t play in the rematch Friday in San Jose. He starts a lot of the nonsense and his absence lowers the possibility that there’ll be a knucklehead move or three.
In addition, Joe Pavelski, who drew the five-minute major assessed to Eakin in Game 7 last year, is now in Dallas. The fans will have to find someone else to vent their anger toward (Hi, Erik Karlsson? What’s up Brent Burns?).
But the most compelling reason not to expect any cement head moments is this game counts in the standings. Sunday’s didn’t mean squat. There’s two points up for grabs tonight and in case your math skills are rusty, the two points on October 2 count the same as the two points on April 6.
What’s more, this is a divisional game and the same will be the case Friday in San Jose. You don’t want to lose games in your division, especially at home. So I expect the Knights to focus on hockey, not revenge.
Regardless of what they do tonight, it doesn’t change the outcome of April 23 and Game 7. You don’t have to move on, but the players do. Living in the past would be counterproductive to a team that has visions of a long postseason run. But feel free to use the hashtag #NotAMajor for as long as you want.
As I wrote for Gaming Today this morning, I believe the Knights could return to the Cup Final. A lot will depend on Fleury. Can they keep him healthy? Can they avoid overusing him? Can they come into the playoffs with momentum and in relative good overall health?
If there are more “Yes” answers than “No,” then we’ll be talking to each other in June.
**Steve Carp is the author of “Vegas Born — The remarkable story of the Golden Knights.” Follow him on Twitter @stevecarp56. All of Steve Carp’s work here on SinBin.vegas is presented to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm. For over twenty-five years, the Jimmerson Law Firm has been widely recognized as one of Las Vegas’s preeminent full-service law firms. Specializing in high stakes business, civil and family litigation, the Jimmerson Law Firm has an unparalleled track record of winning when it matters most. To reach the Jimmerson Law Firm, call (702) 388-7171 and tell them SinBin.vegas sent you.**