This recent reversal by the Flames has lead to all sorts of rationales being mooted for the uptick in results, from a happier atmosphere in the aftermath of Darth Sutter’s removal to just being lucky and plenty of things in between. There’s every possibility that every and any of those sorts of explanations are at least partly at the root of the 13-3-4 run that Calgary finds itself on, but it’s the role of fortune that interests me most, and why it seemed time for a little deeper look at the Flames since they went to Dallas on December 23rd.
As regular readers know, there’s some worthwhile evidence that good old fashioned variance can play a significant part in a team’s results. A team can outshoot and have no luck around the net while another squad can throw a few pucks in off shinpads or rear ends. The trick, of course, is to examine how those results are actually being achieved and try to filter out narrative-driven explanations. With that in mind, I decided to review the Flames’ work at even strength since that night in the Lone Star State.
When the Flames went to Dallas, they were a team that was 5 days away from tying the can to their GM, seemingly dead for this year and beyond. So, what’s happened in the interim to flip the conference standings? When I went in for a deeper look, it was clear that any review needed to be split in to two sets of games. The first set was the 12 game skein from the Dallas game to the disaster at the Dome on January 19th, when the Flames lost to the Wild 6-0. The second is the current 7-0-1 run that started, again, with a night against the Stars, this time in Calgary. I’ve pulled the numbers from the Time on Ice Corsi sheets in order to parse out empty netters and the like.
December 23 – January 19: Hard Graft
With the benefit of hindsight, this really was the beginning of the good times, although the turmoil around the club that only seemed to ease with Sutter’s dismissal might have distracted all of us from that. The team’s EV out-shooting numbers, which had been decent enough all year, finally began to have a few wins attached, but not an obvious way.
Over that 12 game span, the Flames outshot their opposition 334-246 but were actually outscored 27-28 at EV. Now, 27 goals at EV over 12 games is a pretty good average. If a team could manage that sort of action for a year, that would be good for 184 EV goals, which is the pace that the Canucks are currently on, and Vancouver wouldn’t be anywhere in that range if they weren’t shooting north of 9%. Calgary was doing that while shooting 8.1%, which is lower than their current full season average of 8.4%. In other words, the Flames were earning every last one of those 27 goals for.
That makes it obvious what was going on at the other end, for whatever reason people would like to assign to the problem. 28 GA on 246 shots equals an .886 EVSV%. Not good, to be kind. Kipper, obviously, had his struggles as well as some poor fortune, since there was a run of games where Calgary was deflecting pucks past him like they meant it.
Add that 8.1 shooting percentage to the Flames’ 88.6 save percentage, and you get a combined PDO of 96.7 in the 12 games. Teams like Ottawa, New Jersey and the Islanders are down in that range for the year, and given where their records are, you can see why the Flames needed to be launching a pile of shots just to give themselves a chance. One thing that should always be kept in mind is that PDO numbers strongly revert to 100 for teams over time. A club can outrun fortune for a stretch of games, even for a season, but things normally even out.
That series of games was likely a run where the Flames deserved better than a 6-3-3 record, even if 6-3-3 seemed like water to a team dying of thirst. The next batch, though, shows what happens when you get a bit of good luck on the go.
January 21 – February 7: Dame Fortune smiles, but maybe not as much as you’d think
For a team that’s gone through periods where nothing worked despite the best of efforts, this past run of games must be very enjoyable. The 7-0-1 flurry has vaulted them into 8th place, past a couple of worthy clubs, not the least of whom was last night’s victim. While there’s plenty of talk about good play and that’s not entirely unfounded, the Flames have finally had an extended run on the decent side of the bounces, and the record at least partly reflects that.
At EV, the Flames have been out-shot 156-170, but have scored 18 goals to their opposition’s 14. Shooting 11.5% at EV will fix a lot of ailments under normal circumstances, and that run of good shooting has certainly helped the Flames. In fairness, 6 of those 18 goals came against the Stars on a night where Andrew Raycroft was a bit iffy, but since then, the scoring numbers have been a bit more normal looking. Absent that one game, Calgary has scored 12 goals on 141 EV shots. 8.5% is right where they are for the year, so nothing much special has happened since they rung up Dallas. Even with the numbers all in, 11.5 isn’t outrageous for a short stretch. The Flames shot about 15% at EV for October of ’09, and other teams have certainly outdone that over 15 or 20 game stretches. Most good teams have it happen at least once a season.
Good shooting luck factored in, it’s in net where things have turned hard in Calgary’s favour. After Karlsson’s 4 for 17 showing against Dallas, Kipper has run with things, allowing 10 goals on 153 shots. That’s a EVSV% of .935. His full season numbers read .913 at EV even with this latest run included, so you can see where having Miikka in harness has sent the club into orbit. His good work has allowed the team to roll right through being outshot 5 of the 8 games in question. Even with Karlsson’s numbers added, the Flames’ EVSV% for the 8 games is .918. Their full season numbers are a combined .909, where a decent number would be in the range of .920. Kipper finished last year with a personal number of .928 at EV, so it isn’t like he can’t make that sort of standard.
11.5 SH% + 91.8 SV% = 103.3, which is a hefty PDO, and not sustainable for a year unless you’re last year’s Capitals, who finished with a team PDO of over 103. Of course, toss the Dallas game from Calgary’s run and you have 8.5 + 93.5, or 102.
That 102 figure is also high, but there are a few teams every year that operate in that neighbourhood for a full season. The Bruins, Canucks, Flyers and Stars are all in that range for the year as we speak, and that’s something to remember. The Flames have had a nice few weeks. A few clubs live this way as a matter of course. Teams like Minnesota and Nashville are over 101, and if anyone thinks that those are super teams that have high percentages on merit, well…
Let’s add the whole mess and see where we are. The Flames have scored 45 EV goals on 490 shots, for a EVSH% of 9.2. That would be very good for a full year, likely in the top five or so league wide. At the other end, the Flames have allowed 42 goals on 416 shots for a smooth .899 EVSV%. That number would be almost certainly be in the bottom five for a full season. 9.2 + 89.9 equals a PDO of 99.1 since December 23rd. If 100 is normal, the Flames are, for the whole of the run, still a bit under the number.
What’s the reality for the Flames going forward? I doubt that they’ll shoot 9% for the rest of the year, but if they can get decent goaltending, they still have a bit of bounce left to get back to even. Behind the Net shows them with a full season 5v5 PDO of 98.9, so all they’ve really done in that regard is tread water, even through this burst up the standings. The fact that the Flames are even in the hunt at the moment suggests to me that they’re likely a little better team than we’ve spent the year giving them credit for being. Great? Hell, no, and they’ll still need a revamp of the roster in short order. But they aren’t a bad team, people, and they’re at least as worthy a playoff outfit through the first two thirds of the year as any other team in that cluster of squads between the Wings and the Oilers.