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Sbisa and Engelland not finding chemistry on Vegas’ blue line

With Shea Theodore getting healthy, this experiment may come to a fortunate close.

NHL: Vegas Golden Knights at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Given a recent injury to Shea Theodore, the Vegas Golden Knights experimented with putting Luca Sbisa and Deryk Engelland together. After all, with both enjoying the highest points-per-60 of their respective careers, maybe this combo could pay off.

The results are in, and unfortunately they are not great:

Sbisa/Engelland, past six games at 5v5

Game CF CA CF%
Game CF CA CF%
2/17 vs. MTL 13 27 32.50%
2/19 vs. ANA 14 18 43.75%
2/21 vs. CGY 11 20 35.48%
2/23 vs. VAN 17 21 44.74%
2/26 @ LAK 17 17 50.00%
2/27 vs. LAK 4 14 22.22%

It is not as though they were always deployed in their own end either, as the Sbisa/Engelland pairing began 46.8% of their non-NZ shifts in the offensive zone.

Both players appeared to have difficulties in their role, which may stem from both parties being the more stay-at-home type in their usual pairs (Sbisa with Nate Schmidt, Engelland with Theodore). Neither player looked fully comfortable in the offensive zone, and held off from jumping into plays the way their typical counterparts might.

Fortunately, the Golden Knights were able to walk away from this six-game stretch with a 3-2-1 record, thanks to outstanding play from their talented group of forwards. Still, both regulation losses came at T-Mobile Arena, a building where, as we’ve been told a time or two, the house always wins.

Ultimately, this pairing is one of those cases where the whole is less than the sum of the parts. And one of these parts — Sbisa — has not made any whole better, it would appear.

Sbisa ‘n’ Pals

With TOI With CF% With Sbisa CF% Without CF% Without Sbisa
With TOI With CF% With Sbisa CF% Without CF% Without Sbisa
Nate Schmidt 325:33 44.29 41.37 53.85
Deryk Engelland 95:54 39.62 44.47 50.22
Colin Miller 20:19 50 43.04 55.09
Brayden McNabb 15:59 39.02 43.83 51.22

Whoever Sbisa is paired with gets significantly better when he is away from them. Engelland may not be a Norris candidate — and in fact, he is likely the team’s second-worst defenseman — but even he sees a significant bump away from Sbisa.

Sbisa’s 0.47 points per game appears a red herring, because while it may represent his career high by far, it belies his extremely poor possession numbers. Looking at his relative Corsi stats, he ranks 205th of 206 defensemen this season at 5-on-5 (min. 30 games).

Given that he is a free agent following this season, it appears to make sense for the Golden Knights to part ways from the 28-year-old upon year’s end. Some general manager will likely see his point numbers (and perhaps his plus-minus), and take a stab at him in the offseason, completely missing the fact that just four defensemen have a more fortunate PDO than Sbisa’s 103.7.

Golden Knights fans can only hope that George McPhee won’t be that general manager.