Each Golden Knights game provides a unique opportunity for fans and players alike. That opportunity is the “revenge game.”
All players currently on the Vegas roster came from somewhere else, the bulk acquired via last summer’s NHL Expansion Draft. While there are a variety of reasons for why those players are not still with their past club the fact is irrefutable that those teams had the opportunity to retain the services of the player they lost, and they elected not to.
What we’ve seen through the first half of the season is that these players often play up a little when they have the opportunity to face their old team. This list could be a mile long as the revenge game keeps producing fantastic results among the Golden Knights. Here are three of my favorites from this season.
Marc-Andre Fleury vs. Penguins
Marc-Andre Fleury is widely regarding as one of the nicest guys in the NHL. You’ve heard this before. So he’s not the type of player who is going to use the term “revenge game.” But when the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins rolled into T-Mobile Arena for a Dec. 14 matchup with the Golden Knights, the narrative was far from that of your standard issue regular season meeting.
Fleury was appearing in just his second game back after suffering a concussion during a 6-3 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 13. Two days before the Pittsburgh game, he was on the short end of a 3-2 shootout loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. But with the eyes of the hockey universe fixated on Las Vegas, he delivered the big game performance we’ve come to expect from a guy that’s collected three Stanley Cups in a spectacular career.
Fleury turned back 24 of the 25 shots he faced in a 2-1 Vegas victory. That win, over a well-rested Pittsburgh squad that had not played since Dece. 11, was the team’s fifth victory in six games. After the game the reaction from Vegas’ top netminder was predictable.
“I’m glad it’s behind us, and I’m glad we got the win,” Fleury said.
Jon Marchessault & Reilly Smith vs. Panthers
It didn’t take long for more Golden Knights to exact a measure of revenge against their ex-employer.
Three days after Fleury dazzled home fans against Pittsburgh, the Florida Panthers came to T-Mobile. The storylines may not have captured as much attention as Flower vs. the Penguins, but they were not in short supply. Vegas head coach Gerard Gallant was fired by the Panthers on Nov. 27 of last season following an 11-10-1 start. Jon Marchessault was the Golden Knights pick from Florida in the Expansion Draft, and he was joined by Reilly Smith who was acquired by Vegas via trade.
The acquisition of Marchessault was among the more intriguing Vegas picks last June. He was left unprotected from the Expansion Draft after a season in which logged career-high numbers of 30 goals and 21 assists in 75 games with the Panthers.
The potential Vegas general manager George McPhee saw in both Marchessault and Smith was on full display Dec. 17. After falling behind 2-0 early in the first, Smith assisted on a Nate Schmidt goal before Marchessault found Colin Miller to tie the game entering the second period.
The game remained tied into the third when Marchessault picked up another helper, this time connecting with Eric Haula to take a 3-2 lead halfway through the period. The decision was cemented in the only appropriate fashion when Smith assisted on a Marchessault empty-netter with just over two minutes remaining in what would finish as a 5-2 Vegas victory.
Marchessault led all Knights with a plus-four rating. Smith picked up a pair of assists for the fourth time in 2017, and Gallant’s squad picked up its 21st win on the season against the team he led to a club record 47 wins just two years ago.
Malcolm Subban vs. Bruins
This one was arguably the most delicious.
Malcolm Subban is such a vital part of Vegas’ success today that many fans may have already forgotten the inauspicious start to his career with the Golden Knights. Obviously many in the Vegas organization saw plenty of potential in the 24-year-old netminder. That’s what led McPhee to claim Subban off waivers and trade Calvin Pickard, his Expansion Draft selection from the Colorado Avalanche, to the Toronto Maple Leafs just hours before the inaugural Vegas season kicked off.
Boston needed 62 minutes to determine that Subban would not be a part of their long-term future. That’s how long he spent in a Bruins sweater, across two games, letting in a trio of goals in each appearance.
Granted, Vegas likely didn’t anticipate thrusting Subban into action as early as they did. The issue was forced, however, when Fleury suffered his concussion against Detroit. Two days later, the Golden Knights’ backup goaltender got his first career NHL start, against his old club, appropriately. With expectations low, he silenced naysayers and gave Boston a glimpse of what might have been.
Subban turned back 21 of the 22 shots he faced, letting in the lone goal with 30 seconds remaining in the contest. After the statement victory that catapulted the Golden Knights on top of the Pacific Division, the first-star of the game said all the right things.
“The biggest thing was just not thinking, staying focused, staying in the moment. It feels really good to get the first win in your first game.”
And Vegas is still in first-place today. Keep not thinking, Malcolm.
Las Vegas local covering Golden Knights hockey since 2016.
Ball State University ’05
Credentialed NBA writer covering the Phoenix Suns,
Credentialed NCAA football writer covering the UNLV Rebels