We’re one month in and the Flames have failed to set the hockey world aflame (pun intended and preemptively apologized for). Rob sums up Calgary’s underlying numbers in the post below, but here are some other thoughts about the club’s first four weeks of action kicking around my head heading into November.
– Calgary is more or less who we thought they were. Although new seasons always come with their share of surprises and anticipation, I don’t think a large section of the Flames fan base expected the team to turn into a contender given the low turn-over during the off-season (new executives excepted of course).
The team has been okay at even strength, more or less breaking even when the score is tied in terms of shots and scoring chances. As Bob explains in his recently N&N round-up, the big differential has come on special teams where Calgary has failed to both generate chances for and restrict chances against. The club is currently dead last in the league at putting pucks on net at 5on4 (34.5/60) and they are surrendering the third highest amount of shots while down a man to boot (62.4/60). That is nearly a 30 shot per hour difference between the PP and PK which is obviously just awful. The Flames were middling by both of these metrics last year, so hopefully they can figure out what the major malfunction is and correct things poste haste.
– Related: I had my first "swear at the TV" moment this season recently during a Calgary man advantage. Mark Giordano had the puck in the offensive zone near the sideboards and the four other Calgary Flames players stood stock still like rooted trees and watched him from their various positions on the ice. I made sure to rewind the sequence to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. Nope – four guys with their sticks in the air and dumb looks on their faces.
I usually have little time for bromides like "they have to keep their feet moving", but, when it comes to a PP being worth a damn…the players really need to keep their feet moving. Standing around like like statues in a Roman garden makes it incredibly easy to defend against.
– speaking of Roman, rookie center Horak has some dreadful underlying stats, but that comes from Brent Sutter’s tendency to limit his offensive zone draws so far. By eye, the kid has played relatively well and has been rewarded with a pair of two-point games recently. I don’t know how long he’ll continue to be the toast of the town, nor even if he’ll last on the big club with Backlund slated to return this month and expensive NHLers already finding their way to the pressbox, but it’s a ride we should all enjoy. Not only because it’s rare for a 20-year old forward to break the surface here in the big leagues with the Flames, but because Tim Erixon is having a terrible go of it in NY currently. The defector was recently sent back down to the Rangers farm team and his awful advanced stats support that decision by the club.
It’s two years too early to declare victory when it comes to that certain trade, but soemtimes one must eschew the long view for the brief if fleeting pleasures of life. Stop and smell the roses and all that.
– Sutter is beginning to sort out his line matching and zone start decisions so we’ve seen Jarome climb up from the basement of the starting position ratio rankings that we saw a week or two ago. It looks for the world like the two top lines are going to continue to more or less trade off the harder match-ups and such up front.
That’s not unexpected, but what is new is the bottom-enders like Kostopolous, Horak, Stajan and Jackman not getting the sheltered treatment, at least in terms of ZS. Last year, Jackman et al had some of the cushiest starting positions on the club, but through one month so far they’re at the opposite end of things.
I find this a more sensible route. Although it will suppress the "energy line’s" output, it gives the more expensive forwards a bit of a leg up. The Canucks have sacrificed their pluggers before the zone start gods for years, to the enduring benefit of the glimmer twins.
– Glencross, Jokinen and Stempniak have faced some tough lines but have also had the best of it face-off wise so far and they have more or less taken advantage. Glencross has been a possession and scoring chance machine for a long time on this club and he continues that quality of work even absent Moss (although they have been reunited recently).
The most pleasant surprise has perhaps been Stempniak, who has strong underlying numbers across the board. We can expect to see those results regress a little since he’s never done that sort of heavy lifting in the past, but his good first month at least takes some of the sting out of the fact that Langkow is a healthy and back to being Daymond Langkow down in Phoenix.
– Perhaps the biggest disappointment of October and one of the reasons the Flames are pulling up the rear is in the Western Conference is how ineffective the team’s "first line" had been. Like last year, Iginla and Tanguay aren’t driving possession, but they also haven’t gotten the benefit of high on-ice shooting percentage to compensate yet. The captain has been poor in just about every area of the ice outside of the slot and he boasts one of the worst scoring chance differentials on the team as a result.
More disconcerting is the fact that Iginla’s shot rate is really mediocre through nine games. He has managed just 17 even strength shots despite a team high 153 minutes of 5on5 ice. To put that in perspective, David Moss has 19 ES shots so far in just 107 minutes of ice time.
Overall, Iggy has just 22 shots on net total. That projects to about 200 shots on net over 82 games – 89 less shots than he managed last year and more than 100 less than he was garnering during his most potent seasons. At that rate, we could expect him to score in the area of 26 goals this season.
As he begins to slow down, Jarome’s enduring strength is his shot/release. There’s been flashes of the old Iginla here and there this month where he’s cut into the slot and snapped a quick shot, but his other deficiencies are making those moments rarer.
No doubt an elite center would help the cause, but that goes for just about any team in the league that doesn’t currrently employ Kesler, Daystuk, Crosby or Getzlaf. At $7M/year, the captain should be driving things himself, particularly with a passer like Tanguay on the other wing. I think he’ll improve because, well…damn, but this may be the season where the franchise has to take a very real look at moving Jarome.
The organization is poised to turn a corner this off-season with a bunch of money coming off the books and the club’s fortunes have stalled the last couple of seasons with Iggy as the offensive cornerstone up front. The big guy isn’t getting any better as the months roll by. At some point, the question has to be not what can the team do to help Iginla…but what can Iginla do to help the team…
– Finally, Calgary’s ho-hum record in October came against little more than middle weights and lesser lights. The team has yet to skate against a heavy hitter aside from the opening match against the Crosby-less Penguins. I suspect November will really give us a better idea of where the team is at with DETX2, VAN and CHIX2 on the docket.