Golden Knights coach has motivation facing Panthers
LAS VEGAS — The last time the Vegas Golden Knights took the ice at T-Mobile Arena on Thursday night, the spotlight was on goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury playing his first game against a Pittsburgh Penguins team he helped lead to three Stanley Cups.
Fleury responded by making 24 saves in a 2-1 victory, a win that improved the Golden Knights to 20-9-2 (42 points) and established an NHL record for fewest games (31) to reach 20 victories by a team in an inaugural season, breaking the mark of 35 set by the 1926-27 New York Rangers (20-11-4).
Sunday night, it is head coach Gerard Gallant’s chance to exact a little revenge when Vegas hosts the Florida Panthers.
Gallant was fired by the Panthers after just 21 games in the 2016-17 season, just months after leading Florida to a 47-26-9 record, a franchise-best 103 points and second-ever division title. He also was a finalist for the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year.
The Panthers were a solid 11-10-1 when ownership decided to make a coaching change after a 3-2 loss at Carolina, and photos emerged of Gallant and assistant Mike Kelly waiting for a cab outside Raleigh’s PNC Arena with bags in hand after getting the news while the team bus pulled away.
Gallant said he holds no malice — yeah, right — against the Panthers, who stumble into Las Vegas in sixth place in the Atlantic Division with a 12-15-5 record (29 points) and having dropped three of their last four games, including a 2-1 loss at Colorado on Thursday.
“No hard feelings,” Gallant told NHL.com. “Like I said, they’re good people. They treated me well and gave me a chance to be a head coach and continue my career. I still have lots of friends there. It wasn’t fun at the time. Especially when you think you’re doing a good job and you think things are going well for the organization.”
Besides, things have worked out pretty well for Gallant with the expansion Golden Knights, who trail the first place Los Angeles Kings (20-10-4, 44 points) by just two points in the Pacific Division.
“I know that it worked out very well for me, coming to Vegas,” Gallant said. “Still, when it happens, those first two weeks are real tough. No matter how much money you’re making or how much time you have left on your contract. It’s tough when you get fired.”
Center Jonathan Marchessault, who is tied for the Vegas scoring lead with 26 points (10 goals, 16 assists), and right wing Reilly Smith (nine goals, 14 assists), both played for Florida under Gallant and also figure to have chips on their shoulder Sunday night. Marchessault was left unprotected during the expansion draft while Smith was traded that night for a 2018 fourth round draft pick.
“I thought I showed that I could be a regular for the Panthers, and they chose otherwise,” Marchessault, who had 30 goals last season with Florida, told Sun-sentinel.com. “It’s part of the game.”
Florida has spent two days in Las Vegas and coach Bob Boughner said he’s looking forward to playing in T-Mobile Arena where the Golden Knights have compiled a 12-2-1 record.
“It’s going to be a test,” Boughner said. “We’re aware of their record here.”