Five things: Alright alright

Ryan Lambert
January 31 2013 06:21AM

1. Something odd, but not overall

So I think one of the things everyone in the hockey world more or less agreed upon was that the Northwest Division would be the worst in the West, and maybe the league overall. Turns out, those observers were totally correct.

The Northwest Division's teams have more or less been disasters. Atop the division with a whopping seven points prior to Wednesday night's games was Minnesota, barely above water at 3-2-1, and boasting a goal differential of minus-1. This despite playing four of its six games at home. Just one point back were both Edmonton and Vancouver, with six points apiece. If you'd told me that there would be any point this season in which the team with the best goal differential in the division would be Edmonton, frankly, I wouldn't have believed you, but there they are at plus-1, the only Northwest team with its head above water.

Colorado is two points back of its Canadian rivals, with four points in five games, and all of its losses came on the road. Doesn't bode well for the team, particularly because its top three forwards are injured (Gabriel Landeskog and Steve Downie) or still hilariously unsigned (Ryan O'Reilly, and the clock's ticking real loud these days). Then we come to Calgary, with three points in four games, sitting 28th in the league and dead last in the West.

What's interesting about that to me is that sure Vancouver has had a tough go of things and Minnesota is obviously improved, but I wonder exactly why the entire division is just so bad. In terms of the full league standings, Minnesota and Edmonton is the only squad that would make a 16-team playoff, and they'd be the 12- and 14-seeds, respectively. Hell, the New York Islanders are a better team than everyone in the Northwest. What kind of sense does that even begin to make? 

2. Someday everything will go their way

With that having been said, the Flames being 28th is a little bit of smoke and mirrors. The stats Kent posted yesterday show that they've actually outchanced or tied their opponents in all of Games 2-4 (18-17 versus Anaheim in a 5-4 loss, 14-all versus Vancouver in a 3-2 shootout loss, and 18-13 in a 4-3 win over Edmonton). In all, their chances have been 50-44 in all those games, and at even strength, it was 41-37, also in the Flames' favor.

So what I guess I'm saying is that to some extent, they're just not getting the bounces, and maybe the 4-3 win over Edmonton was some sort of the beginning of a serious correction.

The real issue, though, is that Miikka Kiprusoff has been unimaginably bad. Okay, sure, a 3.44 GAA is one thing. Among goalies who have actually gotten time in NHL games this season, that GAA is 47th, in the realm of what Jonas Hiller and Jose Theodore posted.

But an .872 save percentage? Couldn't, like, any professional goaltender on the planet go out and do exactly that badly? Among actual starters, only Hiller (.868) and Cam Ward (.861!!!!!) are even close. But what's interesting is why Kiprusoff has been so, so bad. His even-strenght save percentage is .906, allowing nine goals on 96 shots; bad as the day is long but not so dismal as the overall. The real problem, then, is his save percentage on the power play. It's .615. Thirteen shots against, five goals allowed. Just abysmal. Obviously some of that is on his teammates, who are only 68.8 percent on the PK, but I don't know. I feel like you gotta at least stop 65 percent of the shots you face, right?

3. Something you never want to hear

So Sven Baertschi is, as of this writing, listed as "doubtful" for tonight's game with Colorado, owing to a lower body injury he picked up in practice. And maybe reading the Herald's report on the issue is setting off alarm bells for me and me alone, but any time I see the words "mysterious injury" in a headline related to the Flames' best prospect.

It would really and truly be a shame is Baertschi is out for any period of time at all, but Hartley seems to think the injury is minor. Scary stuff nonetheless. Hopefully if it's anything more than missing Thursday's game, the team just sends him back to the AHL anyway. The way he got treated on Saturday was a bit a joke; I understand it's not easy to find offensive roles for players in a lineup with this many veterans, particularly players who didn't play all that great in the previous game, but sticking the best forward prospect your organization has had in years on a line with two guys who are barely NHLers and giving him 10 shifts for five minutes is insulting and absurd.

I don't know how you let that happen if you're Bob Hartley. Okay yeah the first two lines are full-up with guys who are proven NHLers, but what's even the point of giving Baertschi fourth-line minutes, no matter how sheltered? It was pointed out somewhere that the kid doesn't have any shots in his last two games, but I guess only gettin 28 shifts during that time is probably a pretty good reason why. He can't do it all himself.

4. On Iginla

One bright spot, if you wanna call it that I guess, is that while Jarome Iginla doesn't yet have a goal this season, and only has three assists in four games, he's at least generating chances. He's been absolutely shooting the lights out, and having no goals on 19 shots is actually somewhat of a miracle for the opposition rather than his being snakebit or whatever you want to call it.

I wonder if he can keep it up. He's no spring chicken these days, obviously, and there's probably more than a little to this related to playing for a contract, but a motivated Iginla seems to be a rather dangerous one, even if there's probably going to be some very real fretting about him if he doesn't score tonight or on Saturday. Again, it seems like just a matter of time, and really even if he scores on his very next shot, his percentage will still only be 5 percent. He'll have a long, long way to go to get back to his career average, and that bodes well for the Flames' offense.

5. One last thing

I just want to touch on the power play here because I actually cannot believe how good it is. Even beyond generating five goals in four games, having 27 shots on 17 opportunities is pretty crazy, and what's really interesting is that they're not even getting a ton of time compared with most of the rest of the league. Only two other teams in the top 10 are anywhere close to their 25:52 of actual time on the man advantage, and their 17 power play chances is actually 28th in the league.

This is something we cannot expect to continue, given how few penalties the team actually draws and the general quality of the personnel on the second power play. And really, it hasn't even proven all that fruitful because the team hasn't scored at 5-on-5. When five of your 11 goals have come on the power play, that's a problem (though maybe a good problem to have, depending on how you want to look at it), and it's one that needs to be corrected soon.

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Yer ol' buddy Lambert is handsome and great and everyone loves him. Also you can visit his regular blog at The Two-Line Pass or follow him on Twitter. Lucky you!
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#1 ChinookArch
January 31 2013, 08:15AM
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The power play is currently the Flanes best weapon. I'm much more impressed the creativity of the #2 PP unit than #1, but I wonder if the 2 units together that makes the Flames so potent right now. Both units are moving the puck around and maintaining possession reasonable well (especially the #2), but they look quite different. Wideman style seems to keep the PK honest, and you can see the ice open up down low. When he's not on the ice the Flames have been really good at moving the puck around. This must be hard for defenders to adjust to.

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#2 Reidja
January 31 2013, 09:38AM
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I've herd that PP save percentage is entirely based on the team's PK effectiveness and not the goalies ability... This was posted in an advance stats article on FN last year sometime. So, I think we can conclude that Kipper has not been good, he's been below average, but not abysmal.

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#3 Kent Wilson
January 31 2013, 09:44AM
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@Reidja

Not here that I remember. Most I know about PK SV% is that it is even more random that normal SV% and can bounce around erratically.

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#5 seve927
January 31 2013, 11:03AM
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"Miikka Kiprusoff has been unimaginably bad"

"The real problem, then, is his save percentage on the power play. It's .615"

@Kent Wilson

"Most I know about PK SV% is that it is even more random that normal SV% and can bounce around erratically"

I find your analysis to be, in your words, "insulting and absurd".

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#6 Kent Wilson
January 31 2013, 11:07AM
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@seve927

I think you can say Kipper's performance has been poor thus far, but also that it's not an indication of his true abilities.

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#7 RexLibris
January 31 2013, 11:50AM
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The NW division results could also be the product of having two rebuilding teams that are still trying to find their proverbial sea-legs, two teams with new head coaches, one that is veteran-heavy and thus needs to play itself into game shape, one that is significantly restructured following a drunken-sailor spending-spree, and another that is in a period of decline from dominance.

There are a number of factors that are likely contributing to the present situation in the division, but I suspect that over the course of the next twenty games some more familiar, or anticipated, trends will begin to emerge.

Minnesota will likely begin to find some success, Colorado and Edmonton will show their growing pains though likely remain streaky throughout the season (depending on injuries), Vancouver will find consistency, and the Flames will improve significantly. The offense is there, the defense is lacking, and the goaltending is below average. Given the improved offensive depth, and a decent chance on an improvement from Kiprusoff, I believe the Flames will find their way to the middle of the division behind Vancouver and Minnesota and ahead of Edmonton and Colorado.

9th or 10th place in the West when all is said and done, I think.

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#8 Reidja
January 31 2013, 11:50AM
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@Kent Wilson

I think it was a response to a question I posed in comments regarding Vollman's "Black Box: Goalies" article. The conclusion re PK Sav% was "basically it's all luck"... Maybe implying that it's not the PK units' fault but definitely not the tender's. In any case, I won't defend Kipper too vehemently, and I agree with the premise that his start has been shaky at best.

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#9 RexLibris
January 31 2013, 11:52AM
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@ChinookArch

The powerplays on a lot of teams are their best weapons. Three best PPs in the league are around 35%. That is an insane number.

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#10 Kent Wilson
January 31 2013, 11:57AM
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@Reidja

That makes sense. I don't know if anyone has definitely proven how much effect the surrounding team has on the goalies PK SV% really...mostly the results are so swamped by randomness and the samples are so much smaller, it's hard to come to any conclusion.

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#11 McRib
January 31 2013, 12:29PM
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Miikka's performance thus far has been very poor, but at least in my opinion they seem to be on the upswing over the last couple starts. If he makes a few more timely saves though against Anaheim & Vancouver we are easily a team that's 3-1, only losing to the hottest team in the NHL.

Colorado should be an interesting opponent tonight. One of two things could happen, the Flames will either blow them out as the Avs have been down right awful the last couple or the Flames will come out completely flat and play to their level, ala Brent Sutter coached teams. If the latter happens we just might be starting to see good signs of Hartley's impact.

Also whoever made the NHL schedule should be applauded as it seems very favorable to an older team with a new coach. Tonight's game could very well tell what the Flames are made of this season.

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#12 beloch
January 31 2013, 12:29PM
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Starting Tuesday, the Flames have a game every second day like clockwork up until a back-to-back on the 17th/18th and then another on the 23rd/24th. That is a pretty grueling schedule! If Kipper doesn't find his legs, I wonder if Irving will get a start at some point in this stretch. That's a bit of a scary prospect right now!

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#13 McRib
January 31 2013, 12:33PM
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At least we had a week off to work on systems with the entire team back under the new coach for the first time... Every other team in the league has to go though the same thing this season, with a game every other night. At least we got our break early to get prepared.

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#14 Willi P
January 31 2013, 01:46PM
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RexLibris wrote:

The NW division results could also be the product of having two rebuilding teams that are still trying to find their proverbial sea-legs, two teams with new head coaches, one that is veteran-heavy and thus needs to play itself into game shape, one that is significantly restructured following a drunken-sailor spending-spree, and another that is in a period of decline from dominance.

There are a number of factors that are likely contributing to the present situation in the division, but I suspect that over the course of the next twenty games some more familiar, or anticipated, trends will begin to emerge.

Minnesota will likely begin to find some success, Colorado and Edmonton will show their growing pains though likely remain streaky throughout the season (depending on injuries), Vancouver will find consistency, and the Flames will improve significantly. The offense is there, the defense is lacking, and the goaltending is below average. Given the improved offensive depth, and a decent chance on an improvement from Kiprusoff, I believe the Flames will find their way to the middle of the division behind Vancouver and Minnesota and ahead of Edmonton and Colorado.

9th or 10th place in the West when all is said and done, I think.

Ahead of Edmonton Rex? Hope you didn't post anything like this on Oilers Nation, they will have your head.

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#15 McRib
January 31 2013, 02:15PM
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@Willi P

Have to agree with Rex, think the flames finish in third possibly even in second. Minnesota has shown to have one great line but absolutly no secondary scoring and the fact that Backstrom isn't as unbeatable as he usually is, makes me think they are surpassable.

As for Edmonton their complete lack of size up front will be exposed once the season progresses like in previous years, injuries will pile up.

Colorado has been awful so far this season and they will be in the Jones/McKinnon sweepstakes, without Steve Downie & Ryan O'Reilly all season. Paul Stastny and Erik Johnson each have ONE point through six games and Gabriel Landeskog is injured as well.

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#16 beloch
January 31 2013, 02:33PM
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On the Baertschi front:

http://www.calgaryherald.com/sports/hockey/calgary-flames/Flames+rookie+Sven+Baertschi+sidelined+with/7900274/story.html

The injury is a hip-flexor, which is a muscle tear that, if it's severe enough to be diagnosed but not any worse, typically takes a week to a few weeks to heal, although they're describing it in terms of days. I've had these myself. As far as injuries go, they vary from not too bad to horrible depending on severity, and some of them hurt years after they heal, although a teenager with access to state-of-the-art physio will probably recover faster.

Sure beats a kick in the head!

This is the sort of injury that an eager young winger might have gotten in a game or practice and tried to play through, only to aggravate it later and finally get it looked at. I wonder if the reason Baertschi only got 5 minutes in his last appearance was because he already had this injury. If so, hopefully somebody learned their lesson!

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