GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes learned early on this season that the Vegas Golden Knights wouldn’t be the usual NHL expansion team.
What they probably didn’t expect in early October was the Golden Knights would be one of the league’s best teams even as Thanksgiving came and went.
The league is counting on the two southwestern desert franchises to form an instant rivalry, and it’s matching them for the third time already this season Saturday night at Gila River Arena.
But the Golden Knights (14-6-1) are taking care of that rivalry aspect themselves by winning much more than expected. Their 5-4 overtime win over the San Jose Sharks on Friday was their fourth in a row and kept them atop the Pacific Division.
“(I’m) a little bit surprised because they threw a bunch of guys together, but in the same sense, all those guys are great players and most are older pros,” Coyotes left winger Brendan Perlini said.
The Coyotes have yet to defeat the Knights, losing 2-1 in overtime in the clubs’ second game of the season on Oct. 7 at Arizona and again three days later 5-2 in the first major pro sports home game ever played in Las Vegas.
“They’re good players and obviously they’ve shown it and come together as a team,” Perlini said.
“We’ve been playing well, too, and we’ve played them a couple of times and now we know what to expect,” said Perlini, who scored for the third time in as many games. “We’ve just got to play them hard.”
Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet thought the Oct. 10 game in T-Mobile Arena was one of his team’s worst of the season. Vegas quickly opened up a 4-0 lead in a game that goaltender Antti Raanta left due to injury — and it may have contributed greatly to Arizona’s 0-10-1 start. And to Vegas’ startling 8-1 start.
But he liked his team’s effort Friday even though the Coyotes twice gave up leads, saying, “We didn’t have many passengers tonight, and I think that was the key. We didn’t have a lot of guys having off nights.”
The Knights haven’t had many off nights, either, despite going through five goaltenders because of injuries — including starter Marc-Andre Fleury, the former Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley-Cup winning goalie who beat Arizona in those two early season games.
Vegas gave up a three-goal lead Friday against San Jose, but backup goalie Malcolm Subban (three saves) came on to play the third period and overtime in place of Maxime Lagace, who left after giving up four goals on 23 shots.
“I think we’re relentless,” Subban said. “That’s the biggest thing. We work hard and don’t quit. We play as a team, and the results show it.”
The hey did on Friday, again. Jonathan Marchessault scored the game-winner 1:21 into overtime and had two assists, and William Karlsson scored two goals. James Neal — who scored three goals in those first two games against Arizona — added his 12th of the season.
The Golden Knights tied an NHL record for an expansion team by winning their eighth in a row on home ice, and their 14 wins by Nov. 24 are unmatched by a first-year team except for the Atlanta Thrashers. They have a better record than even the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins (11-10-3).
“For us to get two points, with far from our best effort, is big for the guys,” coach Gerard Gallant said.
Arizona is 2-7-1 at home after winning Friday behind Christian Fischer’s overtime goal and backup goaltender Scott Wedgewood, who made 23 saves to win at home for the first time with the Coyotes.
The Golden Knights are 5-5-1 on the road — about the only average statistic associated with them.
“We don’t have a flashy group,” Marchessault said. “We work hard, harder than the other teams. It’s great to be in a group like that, with no stars. We need all four lines, all players, all goalies.
“It’s been an awesome first two months.”
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