LAS VEGAS — The Seattle Kraken will make history when they play their first regular-season game Tuesday, no matter what happens against the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena (10 p.m. ET; ESPN, SN, TVAS).
“We’re blessed, because we’re part of something special,” defenseman Mark Giordano said after he was named the Kraken’s first captain Monday. “Not many guys have this opportunity in their careers with a new franchise, Game One. It’s going to be an electric atmosphere in Vegas. It always is, and [we’re] excited to be a part of that game.”
Problem is, the Kraken are expected to be shorthanded to some degree. Center Yanni Gourde (shoulder) is injured, and five players are in COVID-19 protocol: defenseman Jamie Oleksiak and forwards Joonas Donskoi, Calle Jarnkrok, Marcus Johansson and Jared McCann. It remains to be seen if some players will be cleared for the game.
The Golden Knights actually have a few players who have had the opportunity in their NHL careers to play with a new franchise in Game One, because they did it in Vegas’ inaugural season of 2017-18. No one knows better how the Kraken feel.
No one knows better not to take them lightly, either.
“Yeah, we definitely have a little bit extra insight on that,” Golden Knights forward Reilly Smith said. “They’re definitely a real team. They have a pretty good roster, and I’m sure they’re going to be as hungry as any other team in the League. … We’re going to have to be sharp. There’s no doubt about that. We won’t be sitting back at all.”
Seattle always was going to have a hard time matching Vegas’ success in 2017-18, when the Golden Knights won the Pacific Division, finished fifth in the NHL standings and made the Stanley Cup Final.
The Kraken had the same expansion draft rules the Golden Knights did. But teams learned from experience and didn’t give them assets to protect players in the expansion draft the way they did with Vegas, and expectations are high because of Vegas.
This situation will make it even harder.
Remember, when the Golden Knights opened their inaugural season, they had low expectations and a favorable schedule. Their first regular-season game was against the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on Oct. 6, 2017. The Stars had finished sixth in the Central Division and missed the playoffs the season before.
“Probably a lot of excitement just to get going,” Golden Knights center William Karlsson said. “No pressure. Just go out there, play, have fun.”
Golden Knights defenseman Brayden McNabb said, “Yeah, a ton of excitement. New opportunity. New city. It was a fun time. Some uncertainty as well. Not really sure how the team would play or whatnot, but it’s exciting times.”
Smith and McNabb each remembered the game being a bit of a scramble, because the Golden Knights had never played together before and had little time in training camp and the preseason to perfect their systems.
The Stars outshot the Golden Knights 46-30, but they came back from down 1-0 to win 2-1 thanks to two third-period goals by forward James Neal and several excellent saves by goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
“I think we built our belief from even that first game that we had,” Smith said. “I remember after we beat Dallas, I was just excited we didn’t go 0-82 that year. There [weren’t] high expectations for us, but we kept on building, and after every win, we just believed a little bit more. I’m sure that’ll be a similar blueprint for what Seattle’s going to want to do.”
The Golden Knights’ second game was at the Arizona Coyotes on Oct. 7, 2017. The Coyotes had finished sixth in the Pacific Division and missed the playoffs the season before.
Again, the Golden Knights came back from down 1-0 to win 2-1, this time with defenseman Nate Schmidt scoring late in regulation and Neal scoring in overtime.
They returned to Las Vegas for their inaugural home opener Oct. 10, 2017, with the city reeling from a mass shooting on the Strip on Oct. 1. After an emotional pregame ceremony, they scored four goals in the first 10:42 and defeated the Coyotes 5-2.
Just like that, they were 3-0-0. Soon, despite losing Fleury to injury in their fourth game, they were 8-1-0.
It was a springboard.
“I think it’s huge, so you don’t have to work uphill to start,” Karlsson said. “I think it’s crucial to get a few wins here and go from there. It’s a lot easier.”
It will be easier said than done for the Kraken. It would be even if they were healthy.
They will start with the Golden Knights, who led the NHL in wins (40), tied the Colorado Avalanche for the most points (82) in the NHL and advanced to the third round of the playoffs for the third time in four years last season. Then they will play four more road games before their inaugural home opener Oct. 23.
And they will catch no one by surprise.
“For Seattle, those guys are going to be ready,” McNabb said. “They’re going to be hungry. They’re going to have chips on their shoulders. They’re going to be coming out with lots of energy. So it’s pretty cool to be in this game playing against them for the first time. I’m excited. We’re going to be ready for them.”
NHL.com staff writer Tracey Myers contributed to this report