James Neal

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‘Spare parts’ doing the unimaginable in Vegas


WINNIPEG — Spare parts. Castoffs. Rejects. The unwanted.

“Misfits,” James Neal added, interrupting to offer another name to the list he’s heard before Thursday’s 3-2 overtime win against the Winnipeg Jets.

Take one of those labels and paste it into a thesaurus search. What you’ll find is an endless array of monikers that have been applied to the Vegas Golden Knights, both right after they were assembled, and still to this day — even as they occupy the top spot in the Western Conference as of Friday.

It’s become a running narrative this season. A team that was forged out of a spare parts bin, built with the near certain likelihood they’d fail given, well, history.

They’d need better parts to put forth a better, more reliable product. Those parts would take some time to acquire. Some would have to be built in-house while others would be acquired through meticulous vetting to ensure the proper fit.

Few, if any, figured an unknown product would fit so seamlessly together. It’s like if Apple’s most recent iPhone X was the first iPhone, skipping all the refinement, the little detail adjustments and tweaks, and stumbling into a masterpiece on the first try.

For Neal, who has clearly paid attention to what has been written in print and spoken on TV and radio, the parts assembled perhaps finally had a platform to perform at peak efficiency.

“I think the best part is everyone had a fresh chance with a new team, a chance they maybe hadn’t had in the past — something to prove,” he said. “Whether you’re an established player or an unestablished player or a three-time Stanley Cup champion like (Marc-Andre Fleury), you still have something to prove.”

Neal said the various parts of the Golden Knights had to come together in short order. The fit, he says, has been nothing short of remarkable.

“We wanted to come in and work hard,” he said. “We knew we could be competitive with the group we had. There was no reason why would couldn’t come in and be a good team.”

Fellow forward Brendan Leipsic fits into the unestablished category that Neal explained.

Leipsic, a rookie, had six games of NHL experience prior to this season. Drafted by the Nashville Predators in the third round in 2012, Leipsic was eventually traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. When the Leafs left him exposed, he was snatched up by George McPhee.

Since then, he’s played a further 39 NHL games.

“We were a team of a lot of guys who didn’t know each other,” Leipsic said. “We were in a situation unlike one that any of us had really been in.”

The mandate from head coach Gerard Gallant was simple: Come in, work hard.

“It will give us a chance to win,” Leipsic said, reiterating the words Gallant spoke when the team met for the first time last summer.

Leipsic said Gallant’s black and white approach to coaching has helped. Players know what they need to do. There’s no grey area.

“And I think guys like playing for each other,” Leipsic said, adding ‘blue collar’ to the list.

“It’s not a huge surprise to us.”

The Golden Knights aren’t infallible. They possess the flaws like any other team in the National Hockey League.

Gallant was not happy with his team’s game after Thursday’s win, despite his team winning its 34th game, which made them the most successful expansion team in its inaugural season, passing the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and the Florida Panthers, both who won 33 games during the 1993-94 season.

“We weren’t great,” Gallant said of his team’s effort. “We found a way. We know we’re playing a good team that plays a physical game. Like I said, I don’t think we were great and we didn’t play one of our better games but again we found a way.”

Resilient and relentless — the real identity of the Vegas Golden Knights.

“We’re a team that is four lines that continue to come at you shift after shift after shift,” Neal said. “We used (what was said about us) as motivation. We still are.”

Fittingly, Neal summed up his team by using something he’s heard many times before.

“It’s a good combination of parts.”

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Buzzer: Pacioretty continues hot streak

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Players of the Night:

Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens: Here’s a name you haven’t seen often in these parts this season. But Pacioretty had two goals tonight, the opener for the Canadiens and the game-winner with 1:18 left in the third period to give the Canadiens a 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals. He also added an assist on Montreal’s other goal. Truth be told, Pacioretty has been sizzling lately with six goals and an assist in his past six games.

John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks: Gibson had a quiet night for the most part until the third period, but he was stellar when called upon and made 23 saves, including a second-period beauty (which you will see below) to help his team to a 2-1 win against the Los Angeles Kings.

Highlights of the Night:

James Neal had all the moves to help the Vegas Golden Knights secure a point on the road in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers.

John Gibson got just enough on this puck to redirect it off the post and out for quite the save:

Factoid of the Night:



Panthers 4, Golden Knights 3 (OT)

Canadiens 3, Capitals 2

Ducks 2, Kings 1

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Golden Knights can’t stop, won’t stop

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There may not be a more intriguing story in the NHL this year than what is going on in Sin City.

Defying all the odds, the Vegas Golden Knights — a team comprised of spare parts that general manager George McPhee picked out of a discard bin this past summer — sit on top of the Pacific Division at Thanksgiving after a 4-2 win against the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday.

The league-wide off day due to the holiday should give you enough time to come to the realization that yes, indeed, your eyes are not deceiving you.

Instead, the NHL has a brand new team that continues to re-write hockey history.

The Golden Knights matched an NHL record for most wins by a team through the first 20 games of its inaugural season on Wednesday, moving to 13-6-1 on the year.

They became the first expansion team to start a season 3-0-0 and first to win their first six of seven back in October. On Nov. 4, they tied a league record for shortest number of games played to achieve nine wins an inaugural season and continue to do things no other expansion team has done.

How a team full of players not good enough to be protected prior to the expansion draft is doing so well is anyone’s guess.

Chip on their collective shoulders? Perhaps. A little Las Vegas magic? Quite possible.

What is certain is that the Golden Knights have little trouble scoring. And scoring helps with winning.

James Neal, a former 40-goal man, leads the way with 11 goals. Only Filip Forsberg on the Nashville Predators, Neal’s former team, has as many. William Karlsson is second with 10. No one on his former team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, has reached double digits yet.

David Perron, Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault and Erik Haula aren’t far behind with six goals apiece, and Vegas is eighth in expected goals for percentage.

The math adds up to show the Golden Knights tied for fourth in goals for with 72. They’re also in the top third when it comes to least goals against, a remarkable feat given that they’ve had to dig deep — really deep — into their stable of goaltenders thanks to injury.

Furthermore, If the playoffs were determined by possession metrics and began tomorrow, the Golden Knights would be one of the 16 headed to the promised land.

Maybe Vegas just likes to win. And really, what do they have to lose?

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

James Neal driving force behind Knights’ remarkable start

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LAS VEGAS (AP) The Golden Knights haven’t wasted any time in making an impact on the NHL. Fans in large part can thank James Neal for that.

Neal has scored the game-winning goal in all three of the Knights’ victories, making them the first team in NHL history to begin their debut season with three straight wins. He’s added his own personal firsts, including scoring the first goal in franchise history last Friday in Dallas and the first power-play goal in franchise history in the team’s emotional home opener Tuesday. He has five goals total on the season.

“You’re going to have your highs, you’re going to have your lows,” he said. “But when you’re scoring, you’re feeling it. You’re in a zone and you gotta do everything you can to keep it going. Tons of emotions coming from our group. Everyone is new, everyone is trying to battle for each other. You can see it in the way we play, you can see it on the bench, you can see the emotion that we’re playing with.”

Much like his team was a question mark heading into its inaugural season, Neal’s status was up in the air ahead of the Knights’ debut. The left wing who came to Las Vegas through the expansion draft missed the preseason because of a broken hand sustained on May 12 in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final against the Anaheim Ducks when he was with Nashville.

“James missed most of training camp from his injury and he’s played great hockey the first three games. He’ll probably make that a habit of missing training camp and skating for a couple of days and coming out and dominating,” Knights coach Gerard Gallant joked. “I’m real happy with the way he’s playing, obviously if the goal-scoring is coming. He’s been great for us and that’s great to see.”

Neal was at a loss for words following last Tuesday’s win when he was informed he had the game-winner in all three games.

“I don’t even know what to say, it’s just a special time for our group and our team and everything that’s happened, it’s just kind of a whirlwind and we’re doing everything we can to play good hockey,” Neal said. “When you’re feeling it, you think you can score on every shot, you just want the chances, you want the puck in the right spots and give yourself a chance to score when you’re shooting it.”

Neal’s most productive season was with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2011-12, when he scored 40 goals in 80 games. In his last three seasons, all with Nashville, he averaged 25.6 goals per season.

While he’s on a remarkable pace at the beginning of his tenure in Nevada, Neal knows that with scoring streaks, come scoring droughts. So for now it’s simply a matter of taking advantage of the team’s momentum, while feeding off the energy of a city that has come together following the tragic Oct. 1 shooting at an outdoor concert on The Strip.

“For our team, for the city, (we’re) playing for the victims and everyone affected,” Neal said. “I think every guy in this dressing room is doing that. I’m proud of all our guys and we’ll continue to do everything we can to uplift the city and be able to be a big part of it.”


Preds hope Moses signing will boost third line offensively

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The Nashville Predators wanted more depth scoring and they went all the way to the KHL to get it. Steve Moses, who signed a one-year, $1 million contract, is tentatively projected to play on Nashville’s third line and could make that unit significantly more dangerous.

“Goal-scoring was something we wanted to put more of in our lineup,” Predators GM David Poile told The Tennessean. “Here’s a guy that’s free, here’s a guy that has all those qualities and why not take a chance on somebody like that? He’s not big, but he’s fast and he can score. Hopefully, there’s got to be a place for him in our lineup.

“Last year, we had two lines, the (Mike) Fisher and (Mike) Ribeiro lines, that were very prolific offensively. And our third and fourth lines (were) somewhat equal, very good defensively, (but) didn’t provide, with all due respect, too much for us offensively. I don’t want to be greedy, but would like to try to push the envelope a little bit more.”

Nashville had six forwards last season that recorded at least 15 goals in Filip Forsberg, Craig Smith, James Neal, Colin Wilson, Mike Fisher, and Mike Ribeiro. When they were all healthy, combinations of those forwards typically compromised the team’s top two lines. After those six though, Nashville’s next best forward when it came to goals scored was Taylor Beck, who netted eight markers in 62 contests.

Meanwhile, Moses had 36 goals and 57 points in 60 games with the KHL’s Jokerit Helsinki. He is a product of the University of New Hampshire, but the 26-year-old has spent the last three seasons playing in Europe.

Former UNH teammate James van Riemsdyk said, “(Moses) skates like the wind. He’s really well built. He won’t get thrown around over here.”

Related: Video: New Pred Moses opens U.S. scoring at Worlds with beauty goal