January 18, 2014 was a Saturday. The Calgary Flames were listing through the middle of their first rebuild season. They visited Vancouver. Bob Hartley dressed Brian McGrattan, Kevin Westgarth, Blair Jones, Ladislav Smid and Chris Butler as his starting five. The Canucks responded with five pluggers of their own.
And since then, Calgary has emerged as one of the NHL’s most surprising teams. Last night’s game was the 82nd for the Flames since that Rogers Arena line brawl. Here’s a brief glimpse of how the team’s done in the, well, season, since all that scrapping.
(For the sake of convenience, we’ve excluded any games played last night from this analysis.)
Here’s a table of numbers, gang!
|San Jose (82gp)||45-27-9||52.6||7.2||91.8||51.8|
|Los Angeles (81gp)||38-29-14||55.5||7.2||92.5||51.6|
The Flames are, shockingly, hunting with the big dogs over the past year – sitting just a smidge behind Anaheim in terms of wins overall. How the heck are they doing this?
Well, let’s go over how they’re not:
- Corsi? Bad. Worst in the division.
- Face-offs? Bad. Worst in the division.
- Goaltending? Mediocre, just a smidge below league average over that span.
That leaves shooting percentage, which is the best in the division, and second only to Nashville in the entire NHL over that span. As for the reason(s) why, your guess is probably as good as mine. The Flames have been better on the rush, particularly with defenders like Giordano, Brodie, Wideman and Russell jumping in more often. They’ve added some skill in Johnny Gaudreau. Sean Monahan’s really progressed.
But, and I don’t want to be mean, are the Calgary Flames as skilled as the Anaheim Ducks? Should they have a shooting percentage that’s half a percent above Anaheim’s at even-strength? Probably not. Is it sustainable? Again, probably not, if you’re operating under the notion that the team is static.
The Flames have been improving in specific areas over the past year, and I firmly believe that this is a better and more talented team than played on January 18, 2014. But they’re probably not better than the Ducks, talent-wise, quite yet. The positive is that the team’s structured play is paying dividends, which has to work wonders for buy-in for the coaching staff long-term.
I have to admit, these numbers are a bit fascinating. The Flames have “meh” goaltending over the past year, in a span than includes really strong runs from Ramo, Hiller and Ortio (and some not-so-great runs from them, too). And their mediocre face-offs and awful possession game doesn’t seem to be dragging them down that much. And while all of these things suggest that their success isn’t sustainable, they have sustained it over 82 games already.
The big question is whether they can sustain a 57.4 points percentage (or something near that level) over the remaining 33 games. If they can stay somewhere in that ballpark, they have a pretty strong shot of being in the playoff picture when the season winds down to the bitter end. Heck, so long as the bottom doesn’t completely fall out, the Flames should be playing meaningful games into late March and early April at the very least.