Flames Since the Boston Massacre



Since the humiliating 9-0 loss to the Boston Bruins, Calgary has won five of their last eight games and garnered points in six of them. That’s a fine turn around in results after one of the worst defeats in recent history. The story goes that the Flames have begun to play fundamentally better hockey in the aftermath of the Bruins debacle, but as always it’s worth checking the data to see if the reality matches the perception.

That seven game span has included teams of all stripes – the lousy (ANA, EDM, MIN), the middling (LAK, NJD) and the excellent (SJSX2). Five of the eight were also on home ice. It’s a relatively small sample of games, so it’s worth noting the context as we proceed.

Here’s how the team has fared at even strength in terms of shots at the net for and against. For those who don’t click links or dislike big tables, here is a summary:

goals for goals against shots for shots against Total shots for Total shots against
13 8 161 197 334 388

Flames managed a +5 even strength goal differential from January 7- 24 despite a -36 shot differential and team wide corsi of -54 (total shots for and against at the net). In terms of ratios, that means Calgary scored 62% of the ES goals in spite of a shot percentage of 45% and a possession rate of 46.3%. 

As you can no doubt guess, that’s a fairly unlikely set of outcomes. The secret of the Flames success over that span was an average 8.1 ES SH% and an astronomical .959 SV%. For those familiar, that’s a PDO of 104. In other words, the Flames and Kipper have channeled their inner Minnesota Wild and Nik Backstorm (or, if you prefer, early season Oilers and Khabibulin) to crawl back into the race recently. That’s notable because, as well all know, neither of those teams were able to keep it up forever.

Although the Flames have kept things low event recently (most notably the last four or five games), the shots and possession ratios remain rather poor. While Calgary has certainly limited the damage at their own end of the ice, the defensive commitment has come at the cost of offensive zone penetration, time and chances. 

Brent Sutter was noted as saying recently that Kipper has played well (beyond elite, in fact) during Calgary’s resurgence, but that the team has also managed to limit the quality chances against. And fair enough, that’s been true recently (although not so much if you back to, say, the New Jersey game). That said, there’s no system in the league and no goalie in the world that can continue to suppress the bad guys to the tune of a .960 even strength save rate.

In addition, you could also argue the Flames have been pretty lucky when it comes to their overall 8.1 shooting percentage. After all, it’s not like they have been generating even an average amount of scoring chances most nights.

For further context, let’s compare this more recent 8-game stretch to the previous one which included the long road trip and loss to the Bruins:

goals for goals against shots for shots against Total shots for Total shots against
11 21 185 220 327 387

Flames ended up with a -10 goal differential this time around. They garnered 24 more shots on net relative to January 7- 24, but also surrendered 23 more. Although the Flames blocked more shots recently, they also had more of their shots blocked previously. The shot/possession differentials and ratios therefore remain very similar: -35 or 45.7% of shots on net and -60 corsi or 45.8% corsi. The difference in win rate, of course, being the Flames SH% (5.9) and SV% (.905) for a PDO of 96.4. 

The truth, of course, is somewhere in the middle. Kipper isn’t going to continue to stop nearly 96% of the shots he sees at ES and nor was it likely the Flames goaltending talent is just 90.5%. The bounces weren’t kind to the Flames around the start of the new year, but the hockey gods have taken pity on Calgary since.

The real issue is the shot and possession numbers which have been depressingly, and consistently, poor. Even though Calgary has notably tightened up in the defensive and neutral zones the last couple of weeks, the cost at the good end of the ice has resulted in a concurrent drop in the club’s own offensive opportunities. It’s a unpleasant reminder that structure, systems play and even effort are ultimately subordinate to talent level in the NHL.

Other notables

– Jarome Iginla is giving up a ton whenever he’s on the ice at ES and it doesn’t seem to matter whom he skates with. In the recent 8-game sample, Jarome’s on-ice shot ratio was (+46-72) 37% (!) and a corsi ratio of 41.7%. Remember that a completely average/unremarkable number in the NHL is 50% which is usually the minimum coaches shoot for in their match-up decisions.  

The prior 8-game segment? Iginla was at 39.8% of shots and a 43.5% corsi (probably elevated slightly because the Flames spent a bit more time chasing). The only thing keeping Jarome alfoat at 5on5 right now is outstanding percentages. His on-ice SH% in the older sample was .944 (despite a team-wide SV% of .905) and in the more recent it was .950. Given how much ice time Iginla gets, the Flames are going to start absolutely bleeding goals against once things regress for the captain.

– The only regular Flames skaters who managed to crest 50% possession rate recently were Mikael Backlund (50.5%), Mark Giordano (50.3%) and Tom Kostopolous (50.3%). Everyone else is south of middling. Almost everyone besides Backlund who faces the other teams best players is deep in the red.

– This analysis obviously has consequences for the Flames plans going forward – of they truly want to compete for a playoff spot, they will either have to hope Kipper will continue to pull the Hasek routine or the club will have to find some way to get to at least average when it comes to possession and shots. The former will rely on Kipper staying healthy, the team continuing to suppress the bad guys as well as possible and huge heaping of luck. The latter will depend on Feaster’s potential subtractions and additions.

  • RexLibris

    Hi Kent,
    This would seem to indicate that you are expecting the Flames to start falling into lockstep with the declining teams in the playoff-bubble pack or am I reading too much into this?

    With all of this in mind, does that lead anyone to believe that Feaster may decide to make an even more dramatic move in order to add some more talent to the roster? Or does anyone think that he will watch patiently to see how the next month plays out before making any moves, be it buying or selling, at the deadline?

    For the sake of argument, let’s imagine that Feaster makes a deadline trade for Jeff Carter from Columbus by giving up picks, prospects, and some expiring UFAs at redundant positions for Howson to immediately flip. Would the addition of a player like Carter be the kind of move that would positively impact this team? I mention him because it would fit most of Feaster’s talking points about getting younger and more talented without having to go through the process of drafting high. It could also be sold as acquiring a top-line centre for the immediate playoff push and ensuring a centrepiece around which to build for the foreseeable future.

  • RexLibris

    Wow. That was downright depressing. Thanks for crushing my view on them playing well, Kent! You’re right in saying that Kipper cannot continue his superb goaltending, however I think it’s safe to say the Flames will start to generate more. After all, no team on average will score 1 goal or less in 5 of 6 games. So with that in mind, expect an improvement in goal-scoring.

    Also on Iginla, how is it that his numbers have been so poor and Backlund’s have been so good? Has Backlund’s numbers taken a hit since moving to Jarome’s line? Just seems somewhat puzzling to me.

    But there is an easy solution to all of this: play the Oilers 82 times a year! That would work b-e-a-utifully!

    • RexLibris

      Wouldn’t help, you’d still have to play someone else in the playoffs. 😉

      My guess on the difference between Iginla and Backlund is perhaps Backlund is still in the process of feeling like a student of the game, whereas Iginla may be forcing the offense too much in trying to win. Backlund may be paying more attention to detail and the coach’s systems and thus, while not always getting the results, still driving the numbers in a favourable direction.

      Then again, I may be a ranting lunatic.

  • Though I know better, I’m going to play devil’s advocate here…

    Why do people keep saying Kipper is going to fall off the ledge (again)?

    Tim Thomas is 2 years older than Miikka, yet still put up a record save percentage, won the Vezina and Conn Smythe, and carried the Bruins to the Stanley Cup, all in 2010. This, coming after a season in which Thomas was absolutely god awful and had to have a futuristic cyborg hip put in place.

    Maybe Kipper will keep up the superb play, Iginla will score 30+ again, and Cammalleri will put up 25+.

    Yeah, when pigs fly, hell freezes over, and Gary Bettman allows another Canadian hockey team.

    • BobB

      I have always made this point that goalies like Brodeur, Thomas, Roloson all have had great success well into their late 30’s & over 35. Like a lot of things, once you do it well, you always have those elite skills. I have always thought Kipper has way more trade value than what a lot of people give him credit for, especially after this year when his salary drops well below the cap hit. If we cant get great value for him, I dont think we trade him unless he wants to go to a playoff team knowing he’s gonna carry the freight. Kippers value wont be lower this time next year either, just by the nature of the position & expected performance. On the other hand, Iggy’s value does diminish as he becomes more of a rental & more noticeable in diminishing & or inconsistent performance as he ages. Very important things to consider if you are a GM & trying to move forward.

  • BobB

    Nice article Kent.

    Am I correct calculating that the 2nd, 8 game stretch, excluding the Bruins loss as an outlier, we were:

    14GA, 180SA for an evsv% of .922? With 11 GF? It’s all ev #’s above right?

    It’s not pretty, but it’s likely closer to reality. It’s safe to say (or hope) the 9-0 loss was a freak phenomenon.

    You and I both know I’m happy to see the Flames play a more structured/sound defensive and transition game. That team play is at least as much responsible for Kipper’s geat season -.929evsv% to date- as are his and Malarchuks efforts.*

    (*Although I should say, for the first time in a long time Kipper is addressing his fundamentals, or flaws in them. You can quite easily see the skills Malarchuk is getting Kipper to take from practice into the game.)

    Kiprusoff (and the team) is outperforming his career numbers and as you’ve pointed out, it won’t last. However, he’s an elite .925-.926 ev goalie, so I wouldn’t expect a huge drop. What’s nice is that he (and the team) is not sinking to the level of last year.

    However, if the forwards don’t start putting more pucks in the net, without sacrificing the defensive effort to do so (ie. cheating/not back-checking) this “playoff run” will be a short one, if it even has a chance like this.

  • Take a look at the list of players who become UFAs at the end of this season (who have trade value):

    Olli Jokinen
    Lee Stempniak
    David Moss
    Brendan Morrison
    Cory Sarich
    Scott Hannan

    Calgary isn’t making the play-offs. They should all be dealt. If they want, in the off-season Calgary can sign them back (or someone like them).

    • xis10ce

      Agreed, come mid Feb we will have a much better idea of where we sit (I’m not willing to yet call abort), these players might end up being Calgary’s rental players and could net us excellent return for this years draft etc.

    • xis10ce

      I totally advocate a blowup/TNT in this fashion. If we crap the bed by mid Feb, then sure, entertain & see if you have any mind blowing offers for Kipper & Iggy. Otherwise reality & philosophy of upper Management/Owners is thats the last choice, red Panik button. Everyone of those players can be replaced or resigned come July. In addition, I would also put feelers out for Comeau(that return would be a feebe)& also include Jackman & Kostopolous. Seems to me, teams like Vanc & Chicago are looking at gritty players like them & if Feaster cant extort, as rediculous as it sounds, a 2nd or 3rd rounder, keep them & resign one of them at the end of the season. Cant imagine signing both with the likes of Bouma & Desbians ready for full time big league chances.

      If we can accumulate a bunch of 2nds & 3rds, Joker may get us a 1st, then parlay a package of picks to move up to top 7-8 position in draft. These guys should be available regardless where we stand. Common sense dictates that by Feb 20th we are going to be one of 5 teams fighting for 1 playoff spot yet. Probably Flames having a 12-15% chance of making the playoffs at that time. In that case I would be like Mortimer Duke of Duke & Duke saying “Sell” “Sell” “Sell”!!! 🙂