Summarizing the Flames, the elite and last season



We wrap up the "mediocrity" series today by taking a look at some of the Flames underlying numbers against some of the best in the league. Previously Kevin Hatch investigated the Flames winning percentages against the various tiers in the league and showed us the team really struggled against the big boys – even during the hallowed second-half run (in fact, their winning percentage went down against the top-four clubs).

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The Run was comprised of beating up on the NHL’s weak sisterrs. Make no mistake: that’s one of the signs of a good team. Unfourtunately, you also have to make hay against other good teams in order to be a contender of any weight. Of course, win percentage can sometimes be misleading since all sorts of things go into a ‘W’. I looked at the Flames underlying numbers against various top-end clubs from lsat year to get a sense of how things went.

Game date Opponent corsi goal diff SC diff
Oct. 21 DET 1 -2 -3
Oct. 24 SJS -3 4 12
Oct.30 WAS 7 -5 -1
Nov.3 DET -27 -1 -5
Nov.13 SJS 0 -1 -11
Nov.19 CHI -24 5 2
Nov.26 PHI -1 1 2
Nov.27 PIT -2 -3 1
Dec.1 VAN 4 -5 6
Dec.5 CHI -7 -2 0
Dec.7 TBL 0 2 1
Jan.5 VAN 30 -2 4
Jan.7 DET 15 0 12
Jan.22 VAN -18 0 -3
Feb.7 CHI -4 2 2
Feb.12 VAN -2 -2 4
Feb.22 BOS 14 -2 -4
Feb.25 SJS -7 0 -12
Mar.2 CHI -12 -2 2
Mar.12 VAN -7 -1 -4
Mar.23 SJS -8 -3 -16
Apr.9 VAN -20 -1 5
Total   -71 -18 -6

The chart shows games against who I consider the best in the west (VAN, DET and CHI) and some of the top-end clubs in the East (TBL, PIT, BOS, PHI). The statistical categories include corsi (shots for and against at the net at even strength), goal differential and even strength scoring chance differential (one game was missing from the data set – Chicago from December 5th).

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The results jump around a bit, as is customary with single game datapoints. Some of them are also misleading due to effects like playing to score. For example, on January 5th the Vancouver Canucks jumped out to an early 2-0 lead on the Flames (including a 6-2 chance differential) and then sat back the entire game protecting the lead. The Flames ran up the shot and chance count as a result. The opposite is true of the Nov.19 contest against the Blackhawks. Marty Turco was awful in that gane and the Flames played with the lead most of the night (inevitably winning 7-2). The chasing Blackhawks augemnted their chance and shot counts as a result. Limiting things to score-tied results would have been more instructive, but the tools we have for that kind of investigation are blunt and cumbersome. It’s possible, so I may drill down a bit more when I have some times on my hands

Some of the results are truly indicative, however, and the overall trends are clear: Calgary is underwater across the board. Somewhat consoling is the fact they weren’t grossly overwhlemed in terms of scoring chances (although I’m guessing the missing game would have added to the deficit a tad). That said, even with two blow-outs to their credit (one vs. Chicago and one versus San Jose earlier in the year), Calgary still ended up on the wrong side of things from all angles.


The findings probably aren’t revelatory given where the team has finished the last two seasons. That said, we began this inquiry for a reason: the Flames were one of the hottest teams in the league for a large portion of the year and many of their stats weren’t merely average, but excellent: 

The team finished top-10 in terms of total offense with 241 goals for and top-10 in terms of goals for at even strength (163 GF). After stumbling out of the gate, the Flames PP also finished in the top-third of the league (19.5%). Calgary’s offense wasn’t merely smoke-and-mirrors. The Flames were one of the better outshooting teams, in part because they limited the opposition to 28.5 shots against per night on average – the fourth best rate in the NHL.

As such, discovering why the Flames finished 10th in the west – despite some decidedly good outcomes – struck me as worthwhile. Here’s what we discovered:

The weakest link – Miikka Kiprusoff was below average in terms of stopping pucks last year, particularly at even strength. Even Corey Crawford, Sergei Bobrovsky and Devan Dubnyk had better ES SV%. What’s more, Kipper was even worse with the score tied – the relentlessly average Steve Mason was superior to Kipper in that game state, for example.

This is why Kipper finished the year with the lowest GVT (golas versus threshold) of his time in Calgary (-2.1). That suggests Kipper was below replacement level for the Flames last year. An average season from the netminder would have put the Flames in the playoffs. A vintage Kipper season would have put them in the top-4 in the West.

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Flames and the inverted pyramid – Calgary’s money/top-six players are actually the worst on the team in terms of driving possession at even strength. Anyone who consistently played against top-six opposition last year was either at or below .500 in terms of their shots ratio, specifically with the score tied. Calgary’s impressive outshooting and decent overall possession numbers are mostly drvien by their better than average middle rotation (Tim Jackman, Mikael Backlund, David Moss, Curtis Glencross, etc). The lack of Daymond Langkow and Rene Bourque falling of a cliff exacerbated the problems at the top of the rotation as well.

This is actually the reverse of most elite teams in the league, who are often carried by their best/most expensive skaters. Examples include Detroit and San Jose.

The Run – As a result of less than great goaltending and an inability to match elite vs elite skaters, the Flames struggled mightily against the best in the league, even when they were one of the hottest clubs going.

Things lined up well for the Flames in the second half: Iginla and Tanguay were white hot by the end of the year, Curtis Glencross had the best 5-6 weeks of his life, David Moss was suddenly a first line center, Mikael Backlund took a big step forward, Kipper started stopping more pucks, the PP went from a bottom-third to top-third unit…and the Flames still couldn’t match the up against the upper echelon. It shows just how tough it is to take that "next step".

That said, there are some things to be optimistic about. In our next series of posts, we’ll look at some of the reasons to look forward to 2011-12. 

  • Craig

    This is completely off topic, but is there going to be a little analysis on Karlsson? It seems to me like he played against quite a few playoff or close playoff teams, Ducks, Canucks, Canadiens, and whomever else, I think he is going to improve this year and I feel like he can handle the big teams.

    • Haven’t considered it since he played so few games, but it might be worth a look. Just glancing at his games now, the only really good team he started against during the season was VAN in the final game. He came on in relief against clubs like WAS and CHI when the game was already over.

      Most of his opponents were the CBJ, MIN and COL of the world.

  • I 100% agree with Craig

    I spent years as a goalie coach, and quite often saw elite bantam and junior goalies were just kids that reached physical maturity too soon. They are just stronger than everyone else and excel (Pogge, Irving, Krahn, Blackburn, Glass just to name a few). I would say its more common to see goalies reach physical maturity around 25 or later (lundqvist, kipper, nabokov, Bryzgalov etc). Its almost ideal because they are much more mature emotionally.

    I use to coach Kiran Milan of the Boston University Terriers. He played in the AJHL, filled out late, got a scholarship. The Avs picked him up with a late round pick and he has a better shot at the show than Irving I’d say, 5 years ago people would have told me Im crazy.

    I think Karlsson can be a starter, emotionally tough, competitive, and coming into his own physically at the same time.


    • Goalies definitely seem to come into their own much later. Kipper is also an example.

      I’m not sure what to make of Karlsson. I thought he improved as the year went on, but the sample of games is really small. I think his major weakness, ironically, is the upper portion of the net: he crouches fairly low and tends to go down at the drop of a hat. His coverage of the lower part of the net seems strong and his lateral movement is decent for such a big man though.

      That said, he really has to work on standing up a bit more.

      • Craig

        That makes sense that he came on in relief for these better teams, but from what I remember he held his own. Now this could be a factor of the playing from behind that you mention in the article, because when he goes in net they are almost always behind. Maybe by some miracle the tower can get a couple of starts against elite teams, thats something I’d like to see.

  • Section205

    Great work, although I do not see the team as mediocre as you do. I certainly appreciate the amount of work you put in to support your position.

    Inverted Pyramid- seemed to show that Iggy and Tanguay were playing high quality of comp and that all 4 lines had similar ZS. Compare same stats for Van and it shows that coaches sheltered and protected Sedins much more. I don’t think the Sedins play as strong as Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Marleau, and Thornton, but they win Art Ross trophies with all their points. Doesn’t it make sense to play to your strengths? Should we roll 4 lines, or should we be more strategic? I think our 2,3 and 4 lines are certainly strong enough to play tougher situations and save Iggy, Tangs and Backlund for more prime scoring opportunities. It seems simple that this would greatly enhance our results against top teams. That said, I understand why we should try to sign a guy like Parise to improve our top end talent.

    Weak Link – It is true that Kipper was not good enough, but I don’t think his excellent 09/10 was a fluke. I do think it is obvious that he shouldn’t play 73 games. I think he is capable of quality over quantity if we have a capable backup. This was and will be a massive factor in our final position.

    The Run – I like the depth of your analysis here much better than the 3 for 22 article. Here I see 2 offsetting blowout wins and blowout losses. Then I see a lot of close games (I think we let in a ton of empty net goals here, do you know how many?). The modest SC differential tells me it is not as lopsided as the win/loss column showed.

    Your table still shows a solid improvement comparing Jan/Feb vs Nov/Dec. So the teams turnaround was not an illusion. We still have to be better and coaching to our strengths would make a difference as opposed to rolling 4 lines (regardless of the elite opponent).

    I’d prefer to qualify the March games when we lost Morrison and Moss. Not to excuse the season, but to say it was not really our best team without Morrison who was clicking on 1st line and Moss was playing huge on OMG line. I certainly agree that our March lineup was mediocre without Morrison or Moss (Langkow could not be expected to make a big contribution at that point)

    I agree that we should not expect a .647 record based on last year’s 2nd half. But I think .600 is well within our potential for a 4/5 playoff matchup. I would call that better than mediocre. Would you?

    • Michael

      Great work, although I do not see the team as mediocre as you do. I certainly appreciate the amount of work you put in to support your position.

      I’m in the mediocre camp, the team is better than the first half of last year, but not as good as the second half. The telling truth is their actual record, they can beat the teams in the bottom half, but fail to win against the stronger teams. For such a veterean team the lack of consistancy worrys me, you never really know what you are going to get game from game. Bourque is a prime example, he can dominate one game and be invisible for the next three. Glencross is a solid third line guy who can do other things (pk etc) but I’m not convinced (yet) that he is a true second liner. The team simply has to few top six forwards / d men and far to many middle of the pack substitutes.

  • Section205

    Minor detail… Missing 1 game against Det in the table. Overtime game in Detroit where we blew 4-2 3rd period lead and Lidstrom scored in OT?

    That one hurt.

    • I appreciate your take. On the Canucks, they can shelter the Sedins to that extent because they have Ryan Kesler behind them (And Maholtra behind him). Dude is a top-5 center in this league. That said, I’d like to see the Flames give Iginla and Tanguay the high ground as much as possible going forward.

      On Kipper – he has been mediocre in 3 of the last 4 years. There isn’t any real evidence that lessening his work load would suddenly result in better save percentages nor that 2009-10 was the rule rather than the exception…especially because the guy will be turning 35 soon. That said, it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s better next year. I don’t think Kipper is really below replacement level.

      On the Flames losing a lot of close games against good teams – well sure, After all the Flames aren’t the Oilers or the Islanders bad. That said, their goal differential against quality clubs last year was -17 at ES and -71 in terms of possession. Some better goaltending probably gets them a few more wins there, but I don’t know if turns the tide completely.

      If the Flames finished 5th in the west, I’d be heartened, but it would really depend on other factors (goal differential, shot differential, record against good teams, etc) for me to consider them better than mediocre. I say this because the Ducks finished in that realm last year I think they were lucky to make the playoffs at all. High-end goaltending, a good PP and Corey Perry having the season of his life saved them from the basement. I wouldn’t bet on them repeating this season.

      Of course, as I noted at the bottom of the post, there are things worth celebrating as well. We’ll be getting into them soon enough.

      • Michael

        I dont think I agree with your view on Anaheim. Hillier is a world class goalie that missed the crunch time & the playoffs. I think they may have gone further with Hiller in nets. Could you say that if Kipper was injured in January & was out for the remainder of the season? Would the Flames had 94 points? Interesting thought. I know Anaheim would have been better with Hiller, could we say the same with Kipper? Also, Anaheim has Getzlaff, Ryan & Perry, star power that can carry a team to the playoffs with no real studs on the blueline. Would be interesting to compare our top line, Iggy, Tanguay & the revolving door versus top lines of all the other teams, in particular, the playoff teams top lines & see where our stars rate up front. This could be an interesting view when analysing what we get from Iggy versus what we can get for Iggy & what should we do come trade deadline.

        • ChinookArchYYC

          The Ducks played out of their heads last year. They are a 1 line team and rely on the top line to win every game. They pushed for a playoff spot because Getslaf and Perry were even better than they normally are. Without looking at the stats, the Ducks first line had to be top 3 in productivity. They even got great goaltendig when Hiller was out with vertigo. No way they repeat that performance. Can’t see them in the playoffs this year.

  • Greg

    Kent, is any of the reasons for optimism articles going to look at Kipper’s stats excluding his horrible stretch in January/February (I remember him vein so bad he was getting the Bronx cheer at the dome). I’d be really curious to see how far up the goalie stats he’d climb if that was just written off. I don’t expect he’d climb that high, but it’d be comforting if it even put him back to “average”.

  • OilFan

    You can’t disagree with his science here people. I’d suggest if the Flames had an average start to the year, it would’t have mattered if they were underwater against the heavy hitters as they’d be in the playoffs. In a conference as deep as the west is, Calgary is most likely better off than most would suggest especially being 7th in the league in goals for. Clearly not a pop gun offense that many fools in the media had predicted. The glass is half full indeed.

    • OilFan

      The same argument can be used in reverse. It’s unlikely the Flames go on a run this year like last year. Throw in a couple of more losses during some of those tight games and then how does the season look? Everything averages out and at the end of the day Calgary can’t take on the big guns and are playoff-less. And if they do squeeze in, how far will they go? This team is built solely around hope. ‘Hope’ you make the playoffs, ‘hope’ your goalie gets hot and steals something, ‘hope’ you go on a run, etc.

      You’re right, you can’t argue with these stats or even casual observation – the Flames are clearly pretenders; pretenders now missing their best shutdown-D and best leader. Hannan is on the same level as Sarich, that’s all. If he was a top-4 D he’d have been offered more than 1 mil per.

      8-12th again.