The Flames dropping the first two games of the shortened season at home seems to confirm all the worst fears of the management and fanbase. The own-zone play has been sloppy, Kipper has looked helpless and there already seems to be a growing chasm between the team’s aspirations and their outcomes.
As always, I remain skeptical of the club’s direction and ability to do anything more than run in place. That said, there’s many reasons not to overly weight the first two games of the season.
Small, Non-representative Sample
Every year I remind myself (and others) that the first 10-stretch of the season is probably the least indicative of a team’s true talent level. That’s because coming out of the off-season most club’s are acclimating to new players in the line-up and some are acclimating to new coaches. Aside from general rust after not playing for X amount of months, that also means some sort of learning curve for the new players, if not the new coaching staff.
Unfortunately, the first 10 games usually seem intuitively more important in grading a club, at least in the short term. This is because of the lack of information (first segment of the year which fans can use to judge performance) and in that vacuum fans and pundits naturally tend to assume that what they see if what they’re going to get.
Pile on top of all that the natural variation one tends to get in small samples in the NHL (weird stuff can happen over a few games as a matter of chance) and you have a segemt of the schedule which needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Finally, Calgary has lacked two major new additions to the roster in Roman Cervenka and Jiri Hudler thanks to unforeseen circumstances. It’s unknown just what sort of impact either guy will have on the club’s performance, but it’s fair to say this isn’t quite the roster Feaster envisioned when he finished building it in August.
They Haven’t Been That Bad
I’ll stipulate the Flames haven’t been great through the first games – the defense and neutral zone puck management at certain times has been sloppy at best. Kipper looks like he’s fighting vertigo and some of the higher priced vets like Mark Giordano, Jay Bouwmeester and Mike Cammalleri are obviously fighting through some rust.
That said, both games were winnable. With a few more bounces and even slightly better goaltending, the Flames could be 2-0 right now. They outchanced the Sharks 16-10 in game one and then battled the Ducks more or less to a draw by the same metric last night:
|CGY||1||3:06||Glencross goal (tip) PP|
|CGY||2||18:48||Glencross goal (tip) PP|
|CGY||2||1:52||Stempniak break away|
|ANA||3||15:58||Winnik goal (rebound)|
|CGY||3||5:57||Stempniak goal (breakaway)|
The Flames have had both very good and very bad periods in both games, but altogether they have won at least three of them and generated more chances in aggregate (34) than they have given up (27). They have also marginally outshot the opposition 57-53 so far.
Outshooting and outchancing were big issues for the Flames last year and without Kipper standing on his head for two months they would have been out of the playoff picture by the end of February.
So far, it’s been the opposite story. The Flames have had enough chances to win each game but Kipper’s ghastly .830 SV% (in part due to defensive break-downs, in part due to bad bounces and in part due to medicore play) would be poor on the PK, to say nothing of an overall save rate. As commenter seve927 pointed out in the post-game article below, a lot of good goaltenders have lousy save percentages through the early going. It happens.
Even if Kiprusoff is destined to regress from his noteworthy performance last year as I suspect, he’s certainly not a true .830 SV% puck stopper. The opposition has scored on 33% of their chances so far and the typical rate is about 15% – things will even out in time.
It sucks to lose the first two games and the team-wide performances have been uneven at best. That said, there’s been some bright spots and we have to remember not to get too agitated about such a small sample of games given the long off-season, new faces and the nature of variance for small samples.
Truth is, we don’t really know how good or bad the Flames are yet.