Alex Pietrangelo has played six games for the Vegas Golden Knights, but the defenseman makes it sound like 60 or 600 when he talks about playing the St. Louis Blues for the first time since leaving them as an unrestricted free agent Oct. 12.
Vegas plays St. Louis twice this week, at T-Mobile Arena on Tuesday (9 p.m. ET; ESPN+, ATTSN-RM, FS-MW, NHL.TV) and Thursday (9 p.m. ET; ESPN+, ATTSN-RM, FS-MW, NHL.TV).
The teams play eight times this season in the Honda West Division, with the NHL realigned temporarily and playing an intra-division schedule due to Canada-United States border restrictions and the need to reduce travel amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Won’t it be extra weird?
Pietrangelo said he and his wife, Jayne, talked about it Monday.
“I think if it was my first game here, maybe it would be a little bit different,” Pietrangelo said. “We’ve played six games now. I mean, I’m kind of past that point. I knew this day would come eventually. I’ve been joking that, I guess, if you’re going to do it, just do it eight times in one year and get past it.
“So no, I feel good. I feel comfortable about it and ready to kind of get it over with so we can move forward.”
Pietrangelo has strong ties to St. Louis.
The Blues selected him No. 4 in the 2008 NHL Draft, and he played 12 seasons with them, becoming the first player in their history to hoist the Stanley Cup when he did it as captain in 2019. He ranks fifth in games (758), third in assists (341) and ninth in points (450) on their all-time list.
His wife is from St. Louis, and they have four children. After signing with Vegas, he said he wrestled with the decision, didn’t count out the Blues until he put pen to paper and considered how convenient it would be for family to travel between Las Vegas and St. Louis.
“I think in these situations, it’s not easy for a player, especially with the resume he has with that team,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “He grew up with that team. I’m sure he’s going to have a lot of things going through his head.”
That said, Pietrangelo received a seven-year, $61.6 million contract from the Golden Knights, a chance to play for another Stanley Cup contender and an opportunity to try something new.
Business is business. Look who’s living in Pietrangelo’s old house in St. Louis: defenseman Torey Krug, who agreed to a seven-year, $45.5 million contract with the Blues as an unrestricted free agent three days before Pietrangelo left them.
“Not really any funny story,” Pietrangelo said. “I just think it [worked] well for both of us.”
The Pietrangelos arrived in Las Vegas in December and discovered what a lot of newcomers do: life beyond The Strip.
“There’s a whole new world that we didn’t even know was here in the city, so it’s exciting for us,” Pietrangelo said then.
Family visited, the kids got into school and a new routine, and Pietrangelo got to know his teammates at informal skates and training camp.
Despite the NHL having no preseason games this season, the transition has been relatively smooth.
Pietrangelo has three points (one goal, two assists) in six games and is averaging 25:04 of ice time, more than two minutes more than any of his teammates. The Golden Knights (5-1-0) are first in the West, two points ahead of the Minnesota Wild (4-2-0) and three ahead of the Blues (3-2-1).
“I think he’s adjusted faster than most players,” DeBoer said. “… World-class player. I think the most impressive part for me has been how open he is to coaching and learning our new system and some of the things that maybe haven’t been familiar to him over his time in St. Louis. It’s all new.”
Pietrangelo said the biggest differences between Vegas and St. Louis are the breakouts and how the coaches want the defensemen to join the rush.
“I’m starting to feel more comfortable, starting to find my way, starting to find ways to create more opportunities, which is part of my game,” Pietrangelo said.
When Pietrangelo signed with the Golden Knights, no one knew they would end up in the same division with the Blues this season. No one knew they would play them eight times. (At least. The first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs will be intra-division too.)
But in the big picture, this is why Vegas wanted Pietrangelo, for games like these. The Golden Knights are trying to make the hard leap from Stanley Cup contenders to Stanley Cup champions. Pietrangelo and the Blues have been there, done that.
Pietrangelo can start helping the Golden Knights be like the Blues by helping them beat the Blues.
“It’s a little bit odd playing each other eight times, but like I said, just get it over with,” Pietrangelo said. “Maybe in the first year play each other as much as you can. It’ll be interesting [Tuesday], but once you get a couple shifts, get a few bumps, I think you move past that and play the game.”