Key Observations Heading Into Game 28 Between the Flames and Penguins


When the NHL schedule was first released over the summer, no one exactly circled tonight’s game between the Calgary Flames and Pittsburgh Penguins at CONSOL Energy Center. The Flames were not seen as a team that would do much damage in the Western Conference, but they’ve proved many people wrong so far this year.

The Flames (17-11-2) has been hot at times this season, but the Penguins are running into them while they are cold. Calgary has lost their last 3 games and are 5-5 in their last 10 games. However, Pittsburgh knows they cannot take them lightly. Captain Mark Giordano is having an unreal season as one of the best defensemen in the league this year. The 31-year-old leads all NHL defensemen in points (30) and assists (22). In fact, there are3 Calgary defensemen in the top 11 in scoring at the position. TJ Brodie (4th) and Dennis Wideman (11th) are the others. Up front, the Flames are lead by Jiri Hudler, rookie Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Hudler and Monahan are tied for the lead in goals among Flames players with 11 while the 21-year-old Gaudreau has been impressive so far in his rookie campaign.

A big difference between this year’s team and Flames teams of the past couple years is legitimate goaltender. In the offseason, Calgary signed Jonas Hiller to a two-year deal worth $4.5 million per season. In 17 games this season, Hiller has a 9-7-1 record and a 2.47 goals-against average. He hasn’t been a dominant goaltender, but he’s done a decent job in goal for Calgary. Their backup Karri Ramo has also gotten a heavy workload this season, recording 8 wins and a 2.50 goals-against average in 14 games.

Tonight marks the return of former Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland, who signed a three-year deal with the Flames this offseason worth $2,916,667 per season. No, that is not a typo. Even Bob McKenzie of TSN was confused when he first reported the deal. Engelland was always known as a tough defenseman who can drop the gloves, which is why so many people questioned the signing when it happened. To put it nicely, the signing isn’t looking much better at the moment. Through 24 games, Engelland has recorded 2 assists and a -9 rating, which is the worst on the team. Since it is the holiday season, many people are looking for deals. Let’s have some fun and try to come up with some different player combinations or other ways to spend up to a cap hit of $2,916,667 for this season. There’s only one rule here: you cannot include any player in an entry-level contract since they will be cheap. Here we go…

Sami Vatanen ($1,363,500)
Gustav Nyquist ($950,000)
Blake Comeau ($700,000)

Sami Vatanen ($1,363,500)
Mike Ribeiro ($1,050,000)

Thomas Greiss ($1,000,000)
Steve Downie ($1,000,000)
Simon Despres ($900,000)

TJ Brodie ($2,125,000)
Blake Comeau ($700,000)

Can you come up with any other ones? Send them to us on Twitter or in the comments section. I think this exercise told us a couple things: Blake Comeau has been one of the best offseason bargains and Engelland is being way overpaid.

Pittsburgh (18-6-3) will play their first game since Monday night and it looks like they are going to get some key players back. Coach Mike Johnston announced today that forward Patric Hornqvist and defenseman Kris Letang should be able to return to the lineup tonight. After this morning’s practice, Johnston announced that Sidney Crosby would play tonight, but a little after 4:00 PM, the team announced that Crosby will miss the team’s next two games as a result of an illness. GM Jim Rutherford released the following statement in regards to Crosby’s situation: “There is no indication at this time that this is the mumps, but we are going to hold him out as a precaution. We’ll have additional test results in a few days.” Hornqvist and Letang are key players on the power play in addition to 5-on-5 play. Letang typically leads the Penguins in minutes on most nights as well. Letang and Hornqvist will provide nice boosts to the team, but losing the best player in the world will not. Luckily for Pittsburgh, the Penguins have another elite center in Evgeni Malkin who can lead the way. Malkin has 4 goals and 4 assists in 4 games in December, which is the most among all NHL players.

Marc-Andre Fleury was the first goalie off the ice in today’s optional skate and will most likely start tonight’s game. Fleury has a 5-1 record against Calgary and hasn’t lost a game to them since 2005. However, it is a back-to-back situation and Pittsburgh faces a Metro division foe in Columbus tomorrow so Thomas Greiss will most likely play in 1 of these 2 games.

Last season, the Penguins went 2-0 against the Flames, outscoring them 6-4. Since 2007, the Penguins have gone 7-0 against Calgary. The Penguins’ bad luck with injuries and illnesses has continued this season, but Johnston has done a good job of weathering the storm. Pittsburgh will look to continue their success against Calgary tonight.