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Golden Knights bond behind 'unfinished business' motto this season

Put bitter taste of early playoff exit behind them with convincing win against Sharks in opener

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

LAS VEGAS -- One thing stood out in the pregame show at the Vegas Golden Knights' season opener Wednesday.

It wasn't owner Bill Foley flying in a helicopter in a video. It wasn't players Deryk Engelland, Nate Schmidt, William Karlsson and Marc-Andre Fleury in the same video riding on horses, dressed like cowboys, hunting down bad guys.

It wasn't even the ceremonial first puck that was launched 94,655 feet into the stratosphere attached to a high-altitude weather balloon, then dropped into Death Valley, retrieved by the Nevada State Highway Patrol and brought to T-Mobile Arena.

No, it was the phrase "UNFINISHED BUSINESS" projected onto the ice.

The Golden Knights have set their expectations about as high as they shot that puck, and they lost to the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference First Round last season after taking a 3-1 series lead and a 3-0 lead in Game 7.

They finished no business by defeating the Sharks 4-1 in front of 18,588, a record for the regular season at T-Mobile Arena. It was one game, the first game. San Jose was missing two key players: forward Evander Kane (suspension) and defenseman Erik Karlsson (personal matter). Vegas had more at stake emotionally.

But it was a start.

Video: SJS@VGK: Vegas goes western to open 2019-20 season

"We just feel our season ended too early last year," forward Max Pacioretty said. "Everyone had such a great summer. Everyone came to camp with the right attitude. And yeah, we do feel we have unfinished business.

"But we don't want to say it's strictly us against the Sharks. It's, you know, us against the League.

"We feel we had a better group than a first-round bounce last year, and it left a bitter taste in our mouths. And everyone went home and put in the work this summer, and now we've got to prove it on the ice."

The only problem was the loss of Schmidt, a key defenseman, after an accidental knee-on-knee collision with Sharks center Logan Couture in the first period. Schmidt stayed down on all fours, then had to be helped to the locker room. He put no weight on his left leg. Coach Gerard Gallant had no update after the game.

The Golden Knights outshot the Sharks 35-22. They had a 44-33 advantage in shot attempts at 5-on-5 and a 64-43 advantage in all situations. The high-danger scoring chances were even more lopsided.

If not for Sharks goalie Martin Jones and the goal posts, the score would have been worse.

Forward Mark Stone scored on the power play at 3:46 of the first, forward Reilly Smith at 5:21. Just like that, it was 2-0.

After Sharks forward Marcus Sorensen responded at 12:14 to make it 2-1, here came forward Cody Glass. The No. 6 pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, Glass made his NHL debut and became the first Vegas draft pick to play for the Golden Knights. He got his first NHL goal too, at 2:12 of the second, tapping in a feed from Pacioretty for a 3-1 lead.

Video: SJS@VGK: Glass finishes great feed for his first goal

Smith finished a 2-on-0 give-and-go with Karlsson shorthanded at 4:01 of the third for the 4-1 final.

"We're a hungry group, and we expect a lot from us this season," Smith said. "So it's great to come out of the gates with a big win."

The best part? They did it playing Vegas hockey.

"We just chased pucks down," Pacioretty said. "We make it so hard on their [defense] when we're playing that way. [The first forward] gets in there, and [the second forward] has to be close. And then also, we're such a fast team that we want [the third forward] to take away their options as well.

"We're at our best when we have five guys forechecking. All the forwards are close together. Once there is a turnover, we stay close together. We don't spread out the ice. We try and make plays in tight.

"That's just really hard to defend, because every time there is a turnover, every time you feel that you take away the puck from someone on our team, you should have one, two, maybe even three guys on your back trying to hunt it down.

"And that's playoff hockey. Whether it's preseason, regular season, we always want to play the same way."

If they play this way, the Golden Knights can go against the rest of the League.

"We're motivated, and that says a lot about the group that we have in here," Stone said. "Last year is over, and we're ready for an 82-game season, and it started tonight with a big win."

Video: Smith scores twice, leads Golden Knights past Sharks

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