Golden Knights-Stars Preview
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DALLAS -- When the Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars square off at American Airlines Center on Friday evening, it will be significant for both clubs.
Vegas, a team coached by Gerard Gallant, most recently of the Florida Panthers, will be playing its first regular-season game. The Golden Knights hope to become the first NHL expansion team to win their league debut since both the Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning did so in 1992.
"We are in a unique position that no other team is in," Vegas forward Reilly Smith told the team's official website earlier this week. "The onus is on us. It's an exciting time. We have so much excitement inside our locker room. ..."
Smith, who played 40 games for the Stars between 2011 and 2013, is one of several Golden Knights with Dallas ties.
Fellow forward James Neal, currently sidelined with a hand injury sustained in last spring's postseason, is also on that list as is center Cody Eakin, who Vegas selected in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft over the summer.
Eakin spent most of the past five seasons in Dallas after coming over from Washington in a draft-day trade in June 2012, and the veteran center likes how quickly he and his teammates have jelled as a unit.
"I think we have (become a team)," Eakin told the Golden Knights' official website this week. "I think we've done a good job. I think the guys are coming together well. Practices have been good, practice has been hard, and we've been enjoying ourselves so far."
Friday will also mark a new beginning of sorts for Dallas. It will mark the Stars' first game with Ken Hitchcock as coach since January 2002, when he was fired. Hitchcock had led Dallas to the 1999 Stanley Cup championship and an appearance in the 2000 Stanley Cup Finals, where the Stars lost to the New Jersey Devils.
In April, Dallas hired Hitchcock a second time after the Stars opted not to renew the contract of Lindy Ruff, under whom Dallas was 34-37-11 last season and missed the playoffs.
"I want to see some of those things that we've preached since Day One be in place," Hitchcock said after practice on Thursday. "A big part of that is managing the puck and it's trusting that when you give it up, if you do the right things, you're going to get it back, all those things that matter in a game."
Dallas also has added some new personnel this offseason, a list highlighted by veteran goaltender Ben Bishop, the new No. 1 netminder, veteran defenseman Marc Methot and forwards Martin Hanzal, Tyler Pitlick and Alexander Radulov.
Hitchcock has been especially impressed with what he's witnessed from Radulov, who will play on Dallas' top line alongside captain Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, who led the Stars last season with 72 points (46 assists).
"What I see is that he's on the grind all the time. He's exactly what we need. He's just relentless on the puck, he's strong on the puck and he's determined on the puck, and that's become contagious," Hitchcock said of Radulov. "That's why we did what we did to get him, because we felt that was an element that could help our team."
Seguin not only led Dallas in points last season, but he also skated in all 82 games for the first time in his NHL career.
But after a longer offseason than he and his teammates expected or wanted to have, the All-Star forward is ready to get back on the ice and give Dallas fans something to cheer for once again.
"Definitely excitement. Maybe the biggest thing right now is keeping all the emotions in check. It's almost like you're starting a playoff game," Seguin said. "It's been such a long offseason. So many things happened. There's been so much talking, so much interviews and media, it's nice to be able to start playing hockey again, so yeah, I'm looking forward to it."
Part of that excitement includes lining up against his former teammate, Eakin, on Friday evening.
"Looking forward to it. He's a great teammate and he's a good player," Seguin said.
Updated October 5, 2017