Preview: Golden Knights return home to host middling Flames

Calgary trails Winnipeg by five points in the Western Conference wildcard race.

The Vegas Golden Knights — fresh off a 4-1-0 road trip that featured wins against Tampa Bay, Carolina, St. Louis and Philadelphia — will return to Las Vegas for a brief two-game homestand starting tonight against the Calgary Flames.

The Golden Knights are 11-5-0 all-time against the Flames but have split the season series thus far (1-1-0). The Flames have never won in regulation at T-Mobile Arena, going 0-7-1 in eight previous meetings.

Calgary has gone 6-7-5 since the All-Star break, accruing 17 points, which is tied for 23rd among teams over the last six weeks. The Flames sit 16 points behind Vegas and five points out of a wildcard spot in the Western Conference with 74 points in 68 games.

Vegas has found consistency since returning from the All-Star break and leads the NHL with a 13-2-2 record in that time.

The Golden Knights, who lead the Western Conference and Pacific Division with 90 points in 68 games, pulled off a thrilling comeback victory the last time these teams met. Vegas fought back from a 3-1 deficit after two periods and scored the next three goals, including Alex Pietrangelo’s game-winner 42 seconds into extra time. The Golden Knights gave up just one shot on goal in the third period as part of the successful rally.

Vegas’ most recent game, a 5-3 win against the Flyers, was a slightly different story, as the Golden Knights nearly blew a 4-1 lead in the third period. However, a diving play by Alec Martinez and some solid netminding by Jonathan Quick helped the Golden Knights come away with two points and their fourth win in a row.

Golden Knights win fourth straight with 5-3 victory against Flyers to finish road trip 4-1-0

Quick stopped 27 of 30 shots for a .900 save percentage, improving to 4-0-0 since coming over in a trade at the deadline. In four starts with Vegas, Quick has a 2.22 goals-against average, .930 save percentage and one shutout. He is the likely starter for tonight’s tilt against a division rival, as Jiri Patera has just one game of NHL experience to his name. However, Patera became the fifth goaltender to win a game with the Golden Knights this season and also is undefeated in a Golden Knights sweater.

It has been a rough year for Jacob Markstrom, who has struggled coming off a Vezina-caliber campaign. He is 18-18-9 with a 2.85 goals-against average, .894 save percentage and one shutout in 46 starts. His play has improved of late, and he’s been rewarded with each of the last seven starts, going 3-3-1 with a 2.26 goals-against average, .925 save percentage and one shutout.

He hasn’t gotten much goal support, though; in fact, the Flames have scored 15 goals in those seven games, with 13 of them coming in three games. In the other four, Calgary has managed just two.

In those seven March contests, the Flames have converted on just 12.5 percent of their power-play opportunities, which ranks 26th in the NHL. The Flames have given up two shorthanded goals to match their two power-play goals on 16 tries. The penalty kill, however, has been outstanding, operating at 94.4 percent. The Flames have surrendered just one goal on 18 opportunities while scoring two shorthanded goals of their own.

On the season, Calgary’s power play has operated at 19.3 percent (23rd), while its penalty kill has managed an 81.7 percent kill rate, good for 11th overall. By contrast, Vegas’ power play is 17th (21.3 percent) and its penalty kill is 17th (79.6 percent).

The Golden Knights hold the edge when it comes to goals, both offensively and defensively. Vegas has averaged 3.21 goals per game, good for 15th overall, while surrendering an average of 2.72 per game (eighth). Calgary has averaged 3.04 goals (21st) and 3.02 goals against (15th).

One thing that has been pivotal — or at least significant — for the Golden Knights in recent games is getting the first goal. Vegas is 7-1-0 in March; the club lit the lamp first in all seven wins but yielded the first goal in the only loss, a 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Florida Panthers at the start of the road trip.

Calgary is 24-9-6 when scoring first but 6-15-8 when giving up the first goal. The latter record equates to a .207 win percentage, which ranks 27th in the NHL. Getting ahead early tonight could be a factor for the Golden Knights once again.

Though the Golden Knights have been finding ways to win games as a team, many players have broken out of slumps and are contributing on a consistent basis.

Jonathan Marchessault has goals in three straight games and leads Vegas with 10 points in eight games this month, while Pavel Dorofeyev has goals in back-to-back games and three total points in two contests since re-joining the club. Reilly Smith has recorded seven points during his current six-game point streak, Ivan Barbashev has eight points in nine games since joining the Golden Knights and Teddy Blueger has four points in seven games with his new team.

Tyler Toffoli and Elias Lindholm lead the Flames in scoring with 56 and 55 points, respectively, while Nazem Kadri (49), Mikael Backlund (45) and Jonathan Huberdeau (45) round out the top-5. Defenseman Rasmus Andersson is close behind with 42 points, leading all Calgary blueliners by 12 points.

Huberdeau leads the Flames with five points in the last five games, while Andersson, Lindholm, Backlund and Kadri all have four.

These clubs will play for a fourth and final time in the 2022-23 regular season on March 23 in Calgary.

Projected lineups

Golden Knights
Ivan Barbashev — Jack Eichel — Jonathan Marchessault
Reilly Smith — William Karlsson — Pavel Dorofeyev
Brett Howden — Chandler Stephenson — Michael Amadio
Paul Cotter — Teddy Blueger — Phil Kessel

Alec Martinez — Alex Pietrangelo
Brayden McNabb — Shea Theodore
Nicolas Hague — Zach Whitecloud

Jonathan Quick
Jiri Patera

Jakob Pelletier — Elias Lindholm — Tyler Toffoli
Jonathan Huberdeau — Nazem Kadri — Dillon Dube
Andrew Mangiapane — Mikael Backlund — Blake Coleman
Milan Lucic — Adam Ruzicka — Walker Duehr

MacKenzie Weegar — Rasmus Andersson
Noah Hanifin — Chris Tanev
Nikita Zadorov — Troy Stecher

Jacob Markstrom
Dan Vladar