So much happens in the Vegas Golden Knights in-arena game presentation that it doesn’t seem like there could be more spectacle than there is. And then there is.
The excitement begins before the game, in the form of a question from a dominating male voice: “Are you ready to defend the fortress?” Then the voice declares, “It’s show time!” and a skater whirls out from the Zamboni door with what appears to be a tiny mountain. Or a stone. It soon becomes clear. There’s a sword in that stone, and apparently, only one person can get it out. The Golden Knight.
But he hasn’t made his appearance yet. Before that, there’s a protracted video presentation where the ice itself becomes a giant projection screen to form the background to the stone. There’s voice-over narration, this time by a female voice, which attempts to retell the legend that, apparently, has given birth to the hockey team. Or maybe it’s the legend of the knight. Or maybe they’re the same thing. Hard to tell given that the narrative is somewhat inaudible, and for all that, lengthy. At one point, on the central scoreboard, the video image of a conquering hero standing on the top of T Mobile Arena, other Vegas landmarks in the background, is shown. The narration goes on. Still muffled.
The one line I caught well: “The legend that lies within our city.” So maybe the knight-mascot at the Excalibur isn’t the only knight in town. Anyway, who doesn’t like a good origin myth?
To continue: a skater dressed in grim-reaper black comes out. He (I think) is holding the flag of the mortal and soon-to-be-vanquished enemy, on this night, the St. Louis Blues. He skates around. He tries to pull the sword out of the stone. Guess what? It won’t come. He spies the Golden Knight, who goes over and easily pulls the sword out, then vanquishes the grim reaper fellow with it. He submits. The game can begin.
Not so fast. Over to the right, above the end the Knights will defend twice, there’s the image of a Vegas skyline, and below that, an apparent castle. Between them, flags with the logos of all 31 teams hang. A band plays. The drums strobe with light. Lighted eyeglasses and breastplates flash in strobe-like fashion from the bodies of the band members.
And then the video board gets into action. It shows the goalie, Malcolm Subban, leading the team to the ice. His fellow Knights follow him. That’s about all they’re going to do for him in this first period. They will allow him to face 18 shots, and support him with just four themselves. He allows one goal.
This leaves one question as the game goes on with the Knights down 1-0. What happens when the Golden Knights score? It seems like it will be big. But it isn’t going to happen with the Blues dominating.
As the game proceeds, the spectacle settles down to what’s more-or-less normal for NHL hockey these days. The ice crew wear knight-inspired costumes. When music plays, members of the crowd try to dance well enough to get themselves on the video board. Very few of them have the moves. It’s kinda like how the dancing looks at a Ducks game.
The intermission features a tricycle race amongst three adults. They make figure-eight patterns. (In between periods one and two, that will be guys having to spin around five times and then carry the puck in and shoot on net. They wear skateboard helmets.)
To start the second period, the mascot knight and his knightettes (or whatever one calls a female knight) come out of the aforementioned upper deck castle. Once again, we see Subban on video. The knowledgeable hockey fan has to ask how long he can hold this thing together.
The period, after the play begins, is announced as being sponsored by Toyota. “It’s Toyota time,” the voice says. It feels like being in the hinterlands of Ontario for a Junior A game, a local tire company or moving van outfit being the period sponsor. The voice, too, of the arena announcer has an edge that’s more hyperbolic than dignified. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. People are paying the big bucks to have a good time, after all. (Bleacher seats, still excellent tickets despite being high up, are $81 each for a group of Canadians I know who are attending the game.)
In fact, the whole production in Vegas seems oddly like it’s being played out to people who aren’t used to spectacle. Surely that doesn’t square with what people of Las Vegas live with every day? As I say in my other story on the game at Inside Hockey, there are video gambling machines in the grocery stores around here. Nobody who lives in Las Vegas can be unused to bling.
But even in making these claims, I think—what’s wrong with small-town hockey on a Saturday night? Who said that the whole thing has to be buttoned-down and corporate, or as polite as going to the symphony? What’s wrong if this game seems more Oshawa Generals than Montreal Canadiens? Last time I checked, real hockey was played at all levels, in all kinds of towns, and going to a Generals game is an almost sacred experience, at least to me.
But I still want to see what happens when Vegas scores.
The Blues slowly come to entirely dominate the game. This is not helped by Vegas’s lack of discipline. They allow three power plays in period one. There is another close to mid-period in the second. The shots by halfway are 25-6 for the Blues.
Partly, this is because Vegas hesitates with the puck. In the first period, the cause appears to be sensible caution. As period two goes forward, it’s clear that it’s more a question of the Blues just being bigger, faster, and better with the puck than are the Golden Knights.
Deryk Engelland gets the puck in the slot, holds it and waits—too long—going to his backhand as the puck gets jammed into the goalie and thus missing the chance. James Neal makes one too many passes and loses the puck into the corner.
But goalie Subban holds them in it. In period one, he comes from right to left with the splits and catching glove on Brayden Schenn after Colin Miller has lost the puck at the Blues blue line, which allowed Schenn the breakaway. In period two, he hugs the post as a puck launched by Sobotka comes through a crowd and smacks him in the chest. Positioning seems to be a strong suit.
And then it happens, on the Knights’ ninth shot. The Blues have 27. The Golden Knights tie it, on the power play. Magnus Paajarvi, his first of the year.
The scene that ensues is not as spectacular as I had hoped. But it is loud. The light band that runs around the arena to mark the difference between the lower and upper tiers flashes. A very deep-toned goal horn sounds. Loud music plays. Not regular loud. Rock-your-socks-off painfully loud loud.
But just when the purist thinks it’s all too much, a glimpse at the big board shows—a replay! In some arenas, what’s shown after a goal is tired video of a dancing monkey, or some such nonsense, so this is refreshing.
There’s a song playing, but I can’t quite make out the words. However, I do hear, and see on the video board, fans chanting “Go Knights go!” The sound gets louder still. The building is shaking. The score is tied, and the shots are 27-9. The period will not end until they are 29-15, and the Knights hold the lead at 2-1.
How does this happen? The Golden Knights get a perfect wrist shot from Colin Miller that catches Jake Allen down with his legs closed but apparently not expecting a puck to go in high. He appears to flinch as the puck zings past his head. This happens on the power play, as did the first GK goal.
This is the 12th shot for the home team. They have been fairly roundly outplayed. What’s with this luck?
That’s a question that gets asked an awful lot in this town.
The third period begins with the chant, “Third period power,” and proceeds about the same way the prior two had, with St. Louis wildly outshooting the home team. They are up 32-13 when Subban slide-spins into the net with the puck underneath him. There is a long review, and it is called no goal. But the play shouldn’t have happened in the first place.
The real culprit? The rebound that Subban allowed to set up the play. This, if nothing else, will be his undoing. At least that’s what I think in the moment. Everything is about to change.
With 9:10 left, Subban goes down on a shot that sails wide to his right, taken from the long side. He is obviously hurt. Play continues, as Vegas does not have the puck. Subban slides back and forth on his knees, bent over in pain. Finally, the Golden Knights recover it, and play stops. Off he goes, goalie number two, for the moment number one, and now out.
The backup, Oscar Dansk, got his “welcome to the NHL moment, kid” about four minutes later. The Blues’ Schwartz throws a puck over to the left side, where Pietrangelo gets a one-timer off. It bulges the net. The goalie got over in time, and there was no screen. The game is just that touch too fast for someone with no experience to come in cold. This was the first shot Dansk faced in the National Hockey League.
Dansk catches some luck with six seconds left when the puck goes behind him and then is apparently tipped wide and back across the crease by Schwartz of the Blues. It is more mistake than save, but they count a shot on goal, and the game goes to OT.
The video board urges the crowd to “Prepare for Glory” and demands them to “Make Some Noise” in the form of a cartoon image of a warrior with an unbelievable set of six-pack abs holding a sign. Dansk does well. He makes five more saves, and the Golden Knights fire three pucks at Allen.
The last one, he misses. It’s a two-on-one with Reilly Smith and William Karlsson. The puck goes to the latter, and he bangs it home. The scoresheet records it as unassisted.
There’s no need for spectacle here. The hockey has taken over, and it’s exciting all by itself. The Vegas miracle has continued, at least for one more night.
After the game, Coach Gallant is realistic. “Obviously, you weren’t happy with most part of the game, we were trailing of the night and we weren’t playing that well. St. Louis had most of the chances. Subban gave us the chance to bounce back.”
He would later add, “St. Louis were quicker than us tonight, and I though they got to more pucks than we did tonight. The shot total scares you a little bit. I think it was 28-6 at one time or something like that.” He did credit his team for a good third period, and he was full of praise for Subban, mentioning more than once that he gave the team a chance.