We’re five games into the season, which means just about any stat you can name isn’t all that meaningful (ie; predictive) just yet. Still, some things are beginning to take shape, particularly how Bob Hartley is deploying his players in terms of combinations, match-ups and zone starts. Here’s a look at a few of the noteworthy numbers I managed to glean from the invaluable new stats site Extra Skater.
Individual Possession Rates and Deployment
The Flames are a bottom-third team in terms of overall fenwick (all shots at the net less blocks) rate, but that’s in part because they have spent so much time leading so far. Overall, the club is roughyl split between those at or about 50% fenwick (which is splitting possession at even strength between the offensive zone and defensive zone evenly) and players below that mark. Leaders right now are Kris Russel (52.2%), Sven Baertschi (51.5%), Mark Giordano (51.5%), Sean Monahan (51.5%) and Dennis Wideman (51.0%).
In contrast, the guys getting their heads beaten in are Curtis Glencross (43.0%), Ben Street (40.9%), Shane O’Brien (36.6%), Brian McGrattan (36.1%), and, of course, Chris Butler (34.7%). For Glencross, his numbers match the eye test – he’s mostly been awful at 5on5 to start the year. Ben Street is a useful utlity guy, but he’s punching way above his weight class amongst the team’s top-6.
O’Brien and Butler are your typical detrimental third defensive pairing, who have also been buried by a 42.9% zone start (offensive zone divided by defensive zone face offs at even strength). Brian McGrattan, in contrast, has been completely sheltered (zone start of 75%). In fact, McGrattan has a team low defensive zone start % of just 7.7(d-zone faceoffs divided by 0-zone draws). To put that in perspective, the second easiest defensive zone ratio is Kris Russel at 23.8% (he and Wideman have a 65% zone start, which is why they are team leaders in terms of possession).
The kids – Sven Baertschi and Sean Monahan – have also enjoyed the easiest zone start assignment outside of McGrattan. Both are north of 57%. The only other two skaters with a ZS at 50% or above are Lance Bouma and Tj Galiardi. The forward with the highest defensive zone ratio so far is MIkael Backlund at 38.0%.
Probably the most impressive skaters right now are TJ Brodie and Mark Giordano. Brodie is seeing the toughest minutes on the team currently, with the lowest zone start (41.1%) and the second highest quality of competition (as judged by weighted ice time of opposition) behind Giordano. The Flames captain has the third lowest zone start, highest quality of competition and yet the pair of them boast above average possession rates. The Flames top pairing has done exceptional work in the early going.
As mentioned, the Flames are bottom-10 team in terms of overall corsi right now, sitting at 45.5% (24th). If we control for score effects though, things improve. With the score close (within a goal) Calgary moves up to 22nd overall (47.8%) and when the score is tied, Calgary is middling (49.5% or 16th overall). Given how thin the line-up is and the fact the club has started the year lacking two top-6 forwards in Cammalleri and Stajan, those aren’t terrible numbers. Again, though, we’re talking a tiny sample and one or two really good or really bad games could change everything.
In terms of PDO (ie; luck), Calgary has the sixth highest ES SH% (9.8), but only the 23rd best ES SV% (91.5%) for an overall PDO of 101.3.
On special teams it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Calgary has been scoring well on the PP so far, but it’s mostly due to a high shooting percentage (19%, 10th overall). At 5on4, they only generate 43.4 shots/60 right now, good for 23rd in the league. League leading Ottawa and San Jose are managing about 80 shots/60 on the PP currently in contrast.
The Flames 4on5 work is the inverse – they are 8th overall in the league in terms of allowing shots (47.7 shots/60), but their save percentage has been abysmal (71.1%).
In both cases, the percentages will regress heavily and it will be the volume of shots that predicts future success. If Calgary can keep preventing shots on the PK it should be okay long-tern, whereas they’ll need to up their shot a man up in order to keep scoring.
As mentioned, the ES SV% is middle of the road at 91.9%. Ironically, Karri Ramo managed an excellent .933 rate in his one appearance against the Capitals (31/33 shots), while Joey MacDonald’s save rate at 5on5 is below average (.906). Of his four starts, only one of Joey Mac’s appearances would be considered exemplary (.943 SV% vs Montreal). Which isn’t to say Ramo would continue to put up a SV% north of .930 long term, but it’s also not like he was completely miserable in his debut. Although he’s signed for two years and technically is the org’s current best bet to be "the guy" going forward, we still don’t really know anything about Karri at the NHL level.
I don’t know why MacDonald has become Hartley’s goalie of choice, nor am I sure what it’s going to take to get Ramo back in the net, but on its face the coach’s goalie choice doesn’t make much sense right now. The team has been winning with MacDonald in net, but that’s largely Calgary is one of the highest scoring teams in the league through five games (18 goals, 6th overall).
The Overall Picture
Okay, so what does this all mean anyways? The short version:
– Brodie and Giordano are the club’s top d-pairing in terms of difficulty of their competition and deployment. They are not only surviving, but thriving, which we were almost never able to say about Jay Boumweester + partner during his time here.
– Wideman and Russell have nice possession numbers, but they have been given the high ground by Hartley to a non-trivial degree so far. Ditto the kids. I think it’s the right coaching choice to make in both instances.
– Brian McGrattan is not an every night player. He sees nobodies, almost never has to take a draw in the defensive end and still has the worst possession rates on the team. Play him against other clubs who are dressing a heavyweight if you feel the need, but not otherwise.
– Ben Street shouldn’t be playing in the top-6. Not that Hartley has much choice right now.
– Curtis Glencross is seeing tough minutes and he’s getting beaten up. Playing with Street probably doesn’t help, but he’s to blame as well. When Curtis is on, he’s one of the best players on the team, but he’s stil very much in "pre-season" form out there.
– When we correct for score effects, the Flames have been mediocre at driving play at even strength, which is relatively good since this is the second cheapest squad in the league who is lacking two of their highest paid forwards. Once they start facing teams like Detroit, LA, Chicago, St. Louis and Boston their possession numbers will no doubt fall, but it’s not a bad bit of work for a squad picked to be the worst one in the league before things started.
– Remember, through five games almost any number that has been generated is more descriptive than predictive, but there’s a few things we can say about Calgary – they’ve been fortunate at ES and on the PP in terms of rate of scoring (shooting percentage) and they’ve been unlucky on the PK given their SV%.