Reilly Smith

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The Buzzer: McDavid, Matthews deliver on opening night

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Three Stars

1. Leon DraisaitlOilers

The big Oilers forward blew away previous career-highs last season, scoring an impressive 50 goals and 105 points. Considering the 21.6 shooting percentage he rode, and previous seasons of 70 and 77 points, many expected Draisaitl to come down to Earth.

Well, he began the 2019-20 season just as hot.

Draisaitl was the only player to score three points on Wednesday (one goal, two assists), and the Oilers needed all three of them in a snug 3-2 win against the Canucks. Draistail also generated a +2 rating, six shots on goal, and logged a defenseman-like 26:46 TOI in that win (about five minutes more than Connor McDavid‘s 21:40).

2. Auston MatthewsMaple Leafs

Matthews continues to be a force on opening nights, generating two goals as the Maple Leafs shook off a shaky start to cruise against the Senators. One of Matthews’ two goals ended up being the game-winner, and both came off absolutely splendid passes (from William Nylander and Mitch Marner respectively).

John Tavares ended up being named captain instead of Matthews (understandably), but if you handed out an “O” for opening nights, you’d have to hand that letter to Matthews.

Matthews had a +2 rating and eight SOG.

3. Reilly SmithGolden Knights

If you prefer, you might name Mark Stone as the better Golden Knight of that dominant win for Vegas, as Stone generated two points (1G, 1A) of his own while being great all-around as always.

It felt like Smith was everywhere whenever given a chance, though. Smith scored two goals, including a shorthanded laugher, and could easily have had two shorthanded tallies if not for a great breakaway save by Martin Jones.

Wednesday was quite a display for Vegas’ long-running top (or 1A/1B?) line of Smith (five SOG), William Karlsson (two assists, six SOG), and Jonathan Marchessault (an unusually deferential one SOG).

Highlight of the Night

Connor McDavid’s goal wasn’t necessarily the prettiest of the first night of the 2019-20 season, but it ranks as one of those moments where McDavid makes NHL defensemen look overmatched and, well, not like professionals. While the Oilers haven’t been on most preseason picks lists, few would be that shocked if McDavid, Draisaitl, and a select few other players find a way to drag Edmonton to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Especially after watching goals like these:

Factoids

  • Cody Glass already made history by becoming the first Golden Knights draft pick to play an NHL game for Vegas. He followed that up by scoring a nice goal, becoming the youngest Golden Knights player (20 years, 184 days apparently) to score a goal.
  • Again, Matthews is really good at this Game 1 thing.

Apparently this is McDavid’s sixth goal in an opener, setting an Oilers record.

Golden Knights did a thing

Scores

TOR 5 – OTT 3
WSH 3 – STL 2 (OT)
EDM 3 – VAN 2
VGK 4 – SJS 1

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s Stanley Cup picks
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Breaking down Golden Knights’ lopsided win vs. Sharks

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The Vegas Golden Knights closed out an exciting opening night of the 2019-20 season by easily handling the San Jose Sharks 4-1 on Wednesday.

Let’s bat around some takeaways from that contest while the Golden Knights hope Nate Schmidt‘s injury is minor, and the Sharks likely hold out the same hopes for Kevin Labanc.

Vegas probably could basically have “two first lines”

Early on in Wednesday’s game, Mark Stone reminded people of why he’s such a two-way force that he’s a rare winger who might be able to win a Selke Trophy. Stone emphatically opened the scoring on a booming power-play goal, added an assist later in the contest, and generally looked like an irresistible force. Cody Glass was Stone’s centermen alongside a possibly rejuvenated Max Pacioretty, while Paul Stastny occasionally took defensive zone faceoffs. Considering how easy Stone and Pacioretty made it for Glass on his first NHL goal, you get the feeling that any line with Stone could be a borderline top trio …

Yet, you can’t declare Stone the consensus player of the game.

That’s because Reilly Smith and the Golden Knights’ more established top line with William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault ended up being frighteningly dominant. Smith’s second goal of the night, a shorthanded tally, felt like the story of Wednesday’s game, as Karlsson and Smith passed back and forth against an overmatched Martin Jones.

It’s not just Erik Karlsson; it’s not just Jones

When it comes to the Sharks’ occasional struggles to keep the puck out of their net last season, a lot of people blamed the goalies, especially Jones. Some would say that Karlsson and Brent Burns make life tough for their own goalies, not just opposing ones.

While Burns was available Wednesday — as you could see in him colliding with a teammate during Smith’s SHG — Karlsson had to be a late scratch for personal reasons, and the Sharks still struggled mightily on defense. (Smith actually had another great chance on an early penalty kill, too, but Jones was game.)

Overall, Jones made some tough saves to keep the Sharks within striking distance at times, but this was such a lopsided contest that it didn’t matter.

This growing rivalry should be fun, unless you’re on the ice

Yes, this wasn’t an epic back-and-forth like that notorious Game 7, but these two teams boast the sort of firepower (and beef) that means there’s rarely a dull moment. Imagine if Evander Kane wasn’t suspended.

The Golden Knights have only existed for two seasons plus this opener, yet they’ve been a strong Western presence, accelerating the disdain with opponents, especially their Pacific Division rivals in San Jose.

San Jose needs its top guys to stay healthy

The Sharks did a pretty good job navigating a ton offseason. They could have lost Erik Karlsson. They might have taken a big risk on an aging Joe Pavelski. Timo Meier could have broken their salary cap breathing room.

Even so, losing Pavelski and other players (like sneaky-good Joonas Donskoi) means that the Sharks aren’t as deep as they’ve been in the past. If Karlsson or Burns gets hurt, that defense starts to look shaky pretty quickly. Possibly losing Kevin Labanc could be brutal for a team that’s a little thin on the wings.

In general, the Sharks might be vulnerable to lulls this season when they’re core players can’t suit up. Actually, it might be something head coach Peter DeBoer should try to mitigate; maybe you rest a burdened guy during a back-to-back, or lighten minutes when you have a lead?

To be fair to the Sharks, they didn’t exactly get an easy draw. Even with Schmidt out, Vegas is a daunting opponent, particularly at home.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Golden Knights, Sharks renew their rivalry

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Wednesday’s matchup between the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks. Coverage begins at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Golden Knights were defeated by the Sharks in OT of Game 7 in Round 1 last April after a controversial major penalty was called on Vegas’ Cody Eakin for a cross-check to Joe Pavelski in the third period with the Knights leading 3-0. San Jose scored four times on the man-advantage, while Vegas tallied a goal late to force overtime. Barclay Goodrow won it for San Jose in OT and secured one of the most improbable comebacks in postseason history, leading the Sharks into Round 2.

On Tuesday, Sharks forward Evander Kane was suspended three games for physical abuse of an official, stemming from an altercation with Vegas’ Deryk Engelland in San Jose’s final preseason game. Kane swung his stick at Engelland in response to a cross-check, but got a piece of the ref in the process. Then, the ref grabbed Kane and both fell to the ice. Kane appeared to shove the ref while getting back to his feet.

“I get kicked out of the game for getting jumped from behind by a referee,” said Kane. “I’ve never seen a ref take five strides. If you look at his face, he’s getting all this power and he’s trying to drive me into the ice, which is what he did. That’s unbelievable. Talk about abuse of an official? How about abuse of a player? It’s an absolute joke.”

The Sharks and Knights open the season with a home and home series. They open the season Wednesday in Vegas, before meeting again on Friday in San Jose. Vegas is 5-1-2 all-time against San Jose in the regular season. They’ve split their only two playoff meetings.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: San Jose Sharks at Vegas Golden Knights
WHERE: T-Mobile Arena
WHEN: Wednesday, Oct. 2, 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Sharks-Golden Knights stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

SHARKS
Timo MeierLogan Couture – Danil Yurtaikin
Lean Bergmann – Tomas HertlLukas Radil
Marcus SorensenJoe ThorntonKevin Labanc
Melker Karlsson – Barclay Goodrow – Dylan Gambrell

Marc-Edouard VlasicBrent Burns
Brenden DillonDalton Prout
Mario Ferraro – Tim Heed

Starting goalie: Martin Jones

GOLDEN KNIGHTS
Jonathan MarchessaultWilliam KarlssonReilly Smith
Max PaciorettyCody GlassMark Stone
Brandon PirriPaul StastnyValentin Zykov
William CarrierTomas NosekRyan Reaves

Brayden McNabbNate Schmidt
Jon MerrillShea Theodore
Nick Holden – Deryk Engelland

Starting goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury

Brendan Burke and ‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst Pierre McGuire will have the call of Sharks-Golden Knights from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev.

Mark Stone ready to lead in first full season with Vegas

LAS VEGAS — The first time Mark Stone ever skated onto the ice for an NHL game, he was 19 years old and his Ottawa Senators were facing the New York Rangers in the playoffs.

Erik Karlsson was his teammate then and he remembers it well. ”I’ve been with Stoney since he played his first game,” said Karlsson, now a San Jose Sharks defenseman. ”I’ve seen him kind of evolve into the guy he is today. He’s taken the right steps from day one. He was very fortunate to be around some of the guys in Ottawa that were still there.”

Today, Stone is 27 and one of the best forwards in the league, and Karlsson said things have come full circle for his friend in Las Vegas, where Stone has emerged as a mentor and leader for the Golden Knights.

Stone’s arrival in Vegas in February via trade after six-plus years in Ottawa solidified the third-year franchise as a contender as the big-bodied defensive forward makes things happen in both zones.

Though they now play for heated rivals who will open the season facing each other Wednesday, Karlsson said he is happy for his friend, whom he believes is in a good place with Vegas, where many young players can benefit from his leadership on and off the ice.

”He’s a fantastic man and a good hockey player, I think we all know that,” said Karlsson, who reunited with Stone in Ottawa this summer for several offseason workouts. ”He has the right values and he knows what needs to be done to be the best that you can be.

”I think that he’s always realized what his attributes are on the ice and he’s used that as an example over the course of the years and I think he’s learned his own way of leading and I think he does that by example. As of lately, I think that he’s evolved in helping others reach their potential. He’s taken the long hard road and he’s turned himself into the player that he is today by the dedication and the love of the game that he has, and I know he’s gonna be great for the guys here.”

Stone’s talent is no secret.

He positions himself on offense to make things happen, whether for himself or his teammates. His sturdy 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame allows him to hold the puck a second or two longer in the offensive zone and tends to draw an added defender. The tactic generally leaves one of his linemates open, allowing him to find someone in the crease.

”The minute you think he’s gonna pass it, he shoots; he’s not afraid to do both,” Golden Knights center Paul Stastny said.

On defense, Stone has a knack for disrupting opposing forwards by pickpocketing pucks, intercepting passes, or singlehandedly shutting down another team’s offensive attack before it even starts.

”He’s able to clean up other people’s mistakes and turn them into quick offense,” wing Reilly Smith said. ”He’s a mainstay in this league, he’s one of the best players, so we’re happy to have him for sure.”

Where he’s been just as valuable has been in blending perfectly into a system that has relied on locker-room chemistry. Now the Golden Knights benefit from having him for an entire season, being the type of mentor he once relied on in Ottawa.

”You add Mark in for the whole year this year and he’s such a presence for our group,” defenseman Nate Schmidt said. ”He makes a lot of guys better around him.”

Stone said he has no problem taking on a leadership role with a team that became his number one choice when he knew things would no longer work in Ottawa.

”I heard awesome things about the organization, the ownership, the management, the coaches and, ultimately, the players in this room and it hasn’t disappointed,” said Stone, who had 11 points in 18 regular-season games and 12 points in seven playoff games for Vegas last season. ”This is a group of guys that I love to come to the rink with and work with every day and going and competing with every day.”

Golden Knights have high expectations once again

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LAS VEGAS — Expectations for the Vegas Golden Knights remain as high as ever two years after reaching the Stanley Cup Final.

With the potential for having its most talented roster yet, in the franchise’s third season, the team expects to challenge in the Western Conference once again.

”We know we got a good hockey team where if we play well we’ll have a chance to win a lot of hockey games,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said. ”I think our team gets better every year on paper, but you gotta do it on the ice. It’s one game at a time and go out and play the game and hope to stay injury free.”

One player eager to start the season is defenseman Nate Schmidt, who missed the first 20 games last year while serving a suspension for violating the NHL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Schmidt has been all smiles this year and the liveliest player in the locker room.

”I told Turk (Gallant) I’ll play all seven (preseason) games if it could delete what happened last year in comparison, because it just feels good to be back,” Schmidt said. ”Preseason or not, it feels good to be back in the mix with the guys.”

The feeling is likely mutual as Vegas opened last season 8-11-1 without Schmidt then went on a 19-4-3 tear when he rejoined the team.

WHO’S HERE: Schmidt, G Marc-Andre Fleury, F William Karlsson, RW Mark Stone, LW Jonathan Marchessault.

WHO’S NOT: F Erik Haula, C Ryan Carpenter, C Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.

KEY PLAYERS: The Golden Knights closed their 2018 season on an 11-6-2 run after Mark Stone arrived via trade with Ottawa. He had five goals and six assists in the 18 games but he really came to life during the team’s seven-game series with San Jose, registering six goals and six assists. His 25 overall games with Vegas was a mere preview of what the team can expect with him in uniform the entire season.

”There’s no secret to how he plays, he’s just the smartest guy out there,” Jonathan Marchessault said. ”He makes everybody look better, and I think that’s probably the best quality to have as a hockey player.”

Stone, Marchessault, Reilly Smith, Karlsson, Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny comprise the top six. Third-line forward Cody Eakin is coming off a career-best 22 goals and 41 points and should be motivated entering the final year of his contract. The 28-year-old downplayed the need for a second straight breakout season, but his performance could dictate where he lands next year.

”When you play the right way, team first, you get rewarded and that’s really what it’s all about when it comes to winning hockey games,” Eakin said.

On defense, Dylan Coghlan may have emerged as the dark horse during the preseason, as the hard-shooting prospect has shown offensive potential that would bolster a third pairing on the blue line.

OUTLOOK: The scoring is there for the Golden Knights, the defensive pairings are solid, and it could come down to the 34-year-old Fleury. Last year he started 34 of Vegas’ first 40 games, including 13 straight during one stretch.

”Common sense says you don’t want to play him as much as you played him in the past, but we’re gonna see how the schedule goes and see how he’s going and see how he’s playing and we’ll go from there,” Gallant said.

Gallant said he’ll confer with goaltender coach Dave Prior on who will be in net each game, and that Fleury has input on his playing time.

”We have a plan,” Fleury said. ”I try to manage my body throughout the season to rest maybe and recover better than I used to.”

PREDICTION: Everyone in the locker room has said it’s time to turn the page. The Golden Knights held a 3-1 series lead in the first round against San Jose last year and a commanding 3-0 lead in Game 7 before losing to the Sharks 5-4 in overtime. It still stings, and Vegas wants revenge. With a healthy lineup, among the best forward groups in the league and Fleury in net, another Western Conference Final is certainly possible.