Flames Fast Start is an Illusion

The 5-2 loss to the Dallas Stars on Friday was a bit if cold water on what has been the hottest start in a long time for the Flames organization. And here’s some more: the Flames may have 8 of a possible 10 points to start the year, but the record is almost completely illusory.

Many are already aware of the struggles of the Flames top players through 5 games. Jokinen and Iginla have combined for a grand total of 1 goal, 5 points and a lackluster -5 rating. One of their four points was Jarome Iginla’s assist on Dion Phaneuf’s empty net goal. That’s also their only "even strength" point. Robyn Regehr, previously a rock of relative consistency, has mostly failed to be effective, at times looking behind the play and weak on the puck. in just 5 games, Regehr (who has been a positive player every season since 2003/2004) is already -6.

Masking these significant issues are some notable contributions by depth players (Bourque, the 4th line) and, more problematic, a lot of luck. So far, the Flames have one of the worst shot differentials in the league (-8.2) and are 22nd in terms of goals against per game (3.4). Perhaps most disturbing, all of their money players are significantly under water in terms of possession and outshooting, meaning the puck is spending a lot of time at the wrong end of the rink whenever the Flames first line is on the ice. Despite all that; four wins, 8 points…and that’s what matters, right?

Well, it’s a long season and the bounces tend to even out over the long term. Calgary has scored 18 goals on 123 shots for a 14.6% succes rate. To put that in perspective, the club managed 251 goals on 2643 shots last year, for a shooting percentage of 9.5%. If they were to keep their current SH% up over the course of the year, they’d score 386 goals (assuming the same amount of shots on net). The highest scoring team in the league last season was Detroit…with 289. Capice? Clearly, that 14.6% is unsustainable.

As is Calgary’s success on the power play, which has been as deadly to start the year as it was impotent to end it last season. The Flames are currently operating at 46.7% (best in the league by a fair margin), while the league leaders were up around 25% in 08/09.

The gist of all this is the Flames apparent success to start the year is predicated upon the favor of the fickle hockey gods. Pucks have been finding the back of the opposition’s net with unusual frequency, despite the fact the team has spent a lot time being outplayed. Eventually, the percentages are going to regress to the mean and things will look a lot uglier if the Flames  – specifically the stars in question – don’t clean up their act.