The Skills Competition and All-Star Game were fun, but it’s time to get back to business. After all, the trade deadline is only 27 days away!
We have a full Tuesday schedule, as only seven teams are inactive this evening. As usual, the action begins at 7 p.m. with a half-dozen games (Anaheim at Boston [SN1], New Jersey at Buffalo, Florida at the New York Islanders, San Jose at Pittsburgh, Ottawa at Carolina [RDS2] and Minnesota at Columbus), followed an hour later by three more (Montréal at St. Louis [RDS/TSN2], Chicago at Nashville [NBCSN/TVAS] and Tampa Bay at Winnipeg). 8:30 p.m. marks the puck drop of Los Angeles at Dallas, while Vegas at Calgary waits half an hour before getting underway. Finally, Colorado visits Vancouver at 10 p.m. to close out the night’s festivities. All times Eastern.
Coming into the season, two of tonight’s games stood out above the rest…
- Chicago at Nashville: Who can forget the Preds’ run to the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals? It all began with a four-game sweep of the Hawks.
- Vegas at Calgary: Before becoming the unofficial captain of the Golden Knights, D Deryk Engelland was a three-year member of the Flames. Tonight is his first return to the Saddledome since being selected in the Expansion Draft.
Considering how important Engelland was during the opening weeks of the season in Las Vegas and that he’s the Golden Knights’ unofficial captain – not to mention that it should be a strong matchup – I think we need to make a trip to Southern Alberta.
Though the Golden Knights have existed for only this season, Engelland’s history in the city of Las Vegas extends well beyond that.
The defenseman was selected in the sixth round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft by New Jersey, but he never signed a contract with the Devils. Instead he played five total seasons with the Moose Jaw Warriors in the WHL until he aged out and turned pro during the 2003-’04 season, signing with the Las Vegas Wranglers, Calgary’s brand-new ECHL affiliate.
That’s right, Engelland has been a part of two Sin City expansion teams. Players can play their entire career without seeing a single franchise added to the NHL, but he’s had the pleasure of greeting one city for the first time twice.
Engelland played a total of 107 games for the Wranglers in two seasons – including helping them to second in the Pacific Division in their inaugural season – before moving on to the South Carolina Stingrays and Hershey Bears in the Capitals’ system for the 2005-’06 season. However, he undoubtedly looks back on his time in Vegas fondly not only because of the start of his career, but also because he met his wife during his first stint in the desert.
Engelland eventually made his NHL debut during the 2009-’10 season with Pittsburgh at 27-years-old, and he secured a full-time spot on the Penguins’ roster from 2010 through the 2013-’14 season, after which he elected to sign a three-year, $8.75 million contract with the Flames as a free agent.
What a naughty thing for a boy born in Edmonton to do.
Engelland’s first season in Calgary was almost certainly one of the worst years of his career (double agent for the Oilers, maybe?). He posted only .14 points per game (tied with his 42-game 2012-’13 season in Pittsburgh for the worst of his career) and he provided only one point of the Flames’ 97 in the standings according to Hockey Reference’s point share statistic.
Things could only go up from there, and they certainly did. Engelland’s offensive production increased every season he wore the flaming C, to the point that he also earned a flaming A as a temporary alternate captain last season. In all, he posted 4-12-16 totals in 81 games last season with the Flames and was directly responsible for 3.9 of Calgary’s 94 points in the standings according to Hockey Reference.
As for how he ended up back in Vegas, the free agent was selected in the Expansion Draft by the Golden Knights and signed to a one-year, $2 million contract (he signed a one-year, $2.5 million extension earlier this month to remain with the club through next season), but that’s not what makes his impact on the team and community important.
There’s no doubt Engelland has been doing his share on the ice to make the Knights the best expansion team ever, but he’s also been a big part of why the community has embraced the club so well.
After the horrendous events on the Las Vegas Strip on October 1 (only three days before the NHL’s Opening Day), the Golden Knights turned their home debut on October 10 into an emotional and empowering memorial for the over 900 victims, as well as honoring the all the first responders.
Given his connections with the city, there was no one better to play a pivotal role in that ceremony than Engelland, who assured everyone in attendance that the team was with the citizens of Las Vegas in being Vegas Strong.
Saying 25-16-8 Calgary is red hot might be the most overused joke in the game, but it doesn’t make the fact any less true. The Flames earned points in all 11 games leading up to the All-Star Break with a 7-0-4 record, and that success has propelled them into third place in the Pacific Division.
I’ve said it the last few times we’ve featured the Flames, but it bears repeating: 20-13-6 G Mike Smith is the biggest reason for this surge. Even though his defense corps has allowed a fifth-worst 34.55 shots against-per-game since New Year’s Eve, he’s managed a .943 save percentage and 1.84 GAA during that stretch – both of which rank in the top-four in the league among the 27 goalies with at least seven starts – to improve his season marks to .926 and 2.39 (the sixth and ninth-best marks in the NHL, respectively).
That’s meant that Calgary has allowed an average of only two goals per game, the third-best mark in the league in that time.
However, there have still been peaks and valleys during this run, and Calgary definitely ended the unofficial first half of the season in one of those valleys. Though they earned points in their final four games, the Flames have ended all of those contests on the losing end, falling twice in overtime and twice in the shootout.
Smith is certainly not to blame, as Calgary still averaged only two goals against over its last four games – the (t)second-best mark in the NHL since January 20.
Instead, it’s been the offense that has really dropped the
ball puck in the last 10 days.
For this entire point streak, the Flames have averaged three goals per game – the (t)12th-best mark in the NHL since New Year’s Eve. However, even with offensive weapons like LW Johnny Gaudreau – whose 41 assists and 56 points are fifth and and (t)seventh-most in the league, respectively – the Flames have managed only 1.5 goals per game over their past four contests – the (t)second-worst average in the league since January 20.
For the Flames’ sake, hopefully the All-Star Break provided the rest Calgary’s forwards needed so they can get back to torching goaltenders like they’d been doing all January.
Of course, no matter how happy Calgarians are for Engelland and that he is back in town, I’d venture to bet they aren’t excited he’s bringing the Western Conference-leading 32-12-4 Golden Knights with him.
However, considering how well almost everything has gone for Vegas this season, perhaps there’s no better time than now to square off against the Knights, who posted only a 3-2-1 record in their last six games leading into the All-Star Break.
What’s really impressive over these six games is that three teams not from Vegas were able to come away with two points. Since January 16, the Knights’ defense has allowed the fifth-fewest shots against (27.83 per game) and the (t)fifth-fewest goals (two per game), while the offense has tacked on an average of 3.17 goals to rank eighth-best.
Numbers like those aren’t beat often.
As for the most impressive of those, I’m of the school of thought that it has to be the defense. Whether it’s the success of W William Carrier (averaging four hits per game in his list six appearances), C William Karlsson (10 takeaways in the last six games) or D Brayden McNabb (three blocks per game over this run) – or more likely a combination of their stellar efforts – they’re keeping pucks off 12-4-2 G Marc-Andre Fleury.
Considering Fleury’s .942 season save percentage and 1.77 GAA are both second-best in the NHL, he doesn’t need all that much help to have a stellar night. Mix in Vegas’ impressive defense, and we have the blueprint for how the Golden Knights have found so much success (it doesn’t hurt to have Karlsson’s 27 goals either, the [t]second-most in the league).
Tonight is the first all-time meeting between these clubs, but they’ll get to know each other well soon enough. Calgary and Vegas will play a total of four games this season, including the final game of the regular season for both squads on April 7.
Coming off a four-day break, it’s hard to predict how teams will return to action. The rest can be positive, or the lull in action can ruin the positive groove a team was in. With that in mind, I’m leaning towards the Golden Knights winning tonight’s game, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Calgary finds a way to earn a point and force overtime.