So What’s Different and What’s Changed?

The 2014-15 Calgary Flames are a club known for its peculiarities.

First, they’re a team known for its late-game comebacks. Nine times this season, the team has been down after 40 minutes and come back to win the game. Second, they’re a team that has succeeded despite having flat-out bad underlying numbers.

I was curious about two things: (1) What’s different about third periods? (2) What’s changed since last season?

Here’s what I found out.


  • Faceoffs: The Flames win 45.6% of draws in the first, 48.8% in the second and 48.7% in third.
  • Zone Starts: 45.9% in first, 43.1% in second, 46.5% in third
  • Shooting Percentage: 6.1% in first, 9.6% in second, 12.0% in third
  • Save Percentage: 92.4% in first, 91.0% in second, 93.4% in third
  • Corsi: 45.4% in first, 44.3% in second, 45.4% in third
  • Corsi Close: 45.0% in first, 44.6% in second, 47.8% in third

So what’s different? They’re not appreciably better on face-offs than in the second period, though they take more draws in the offensive zone than in the second period. They shoot progressively better as the game goes on, to the point where they have the best even-strength shooting percentage in the league in the final 20 minutes. Their goaltending gets iffy in the second and peaks in the third period. Their Corsi Close is about the same over the first 40 minutes and then increases, slightly, in the third.

Despite all this, their goals-for percentage (61.9%) is among the best in the NHL, despite the only thing that’s really exceptional being their shooting percentage in the final 20 minutes. (Their save percentage is 8th in the NHL in the third.)


  • Faceoff winning percentage is better than last season: 47.7% now compared to 46.6% then
  • Team zone starts is worse than last season: 45.2% now compared to 48.3% then
  • Shooting percentage is better than last season: 9.1% now compared to 7.9% then
  • Save percentage is better than last season: 92.2% now compared to 90.9% then
  • Team-wide Corsi is worse than last season: 45.0% now compared to 46.3% then
  • Team-wide Corsi Close is also worse: 45.2% now compared to 45.8% then

The Flames are also worse-off in terms of shots-for percentage and Fenwick-for percentage. No matter how you feel like measuring possession game, they’re worse. They’re better in terms of shooting percentage and save percentage. Their shooting percentage is among the league’s best after being mediocre for both last season and the lockout season. Their save percentage is about league average, compared to last season (and the lockout season) when it was just ugly.

Are they getting better chances than before?

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 11.59.06 PM

Not appreciably. All this tells us really is they’re taking fewer shots from (a) right in front of the net and (b) the far left side where percentages would be lower. Things are a bit more concentrated in that center lane, but not amazingly so.

These charts from War on Ice say similar things.

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 12.05.30 AMScreen Shot 2015-02-06 at 12.07.06 AM

Top is 2014-15, bottom is 2013-14. More shots from the slot and thereabouts, fewer from far away. Shots from right out in front are taken at about the same rate as before relative to the rest of the league.

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 12.06.05 AM

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 12.08.33 AM

Same as before; 2014-15 is the top chart, 2013-14 is the bottom. Last season, the Flames shot a little bit better than the league right in front of the net and a fair amount worse farther away from it. So they did the logical thing: they started taking more shots closer to the net. They are still about as good as the league right in front of the net, but they’re a LOT better back in the slot than the rest of the league.

So compared to last season, is there something to the “They’re taking better shots!” mindset? Well, maybe a little. Further evidence and analysis is needed, but you can’t dismiss the possibility.

It’s also worth noting that these areas are harder to get to (and harder to shoot from) in the playoffs, as the teams that are in the playoffs are typically better at clogging up the middle of the ice than teams that are not in the playoffs.


Calgary gets better goaltending and score on more of their shots in the third than in the preceding periods, despite their other underlying numbers being not amazingly different or better than in the rest of the game.

Compared to last season, their shooting is a lot better and their goaltending has progressed from awful to merely average (which is probably sustainable). The shooting may be fueled by them getting better chances, but it may also be by them being more successful than the rest of the league when shooting from the slot. That specific phenomenon itself may be puck luck.

  • Skuehler

    Well, don’t the flames just suck. Terrible hockey team really.

    Why are we always looking at reasons why they shouldnt be as good as they are. Why not look at reasons why they are as good as they are. Healthy defensemen (Gio and Widesy were both injured for a time last year). Elite top pairing. Stable goal tending. Not getting blown out. Having the conditioning and work ethic to ramp up the game in the third, rather than fade. Playing extremely disciplined. Getting contributions from the entire team. Playing systems with confidence. A good team atmosphere. Having six guys playing defence on the ice. Having five guys involved in the offence on the ice. Good team speed. Good, skilled shooting accuracy (how is that a bad or lucky thing?! Did you even see that OT winning shot Wideman scored a few games back?!? Sick). Clutch saves or goals. Aggressive forecheck. on and on…

    Sure, there are deficiencies, but every team has them – even the ‘best teams’ (see LA). Hartley is using what is at his disposal and extracting maximum value. He is playing to his team’s strengths.

    Maybe the current metrics are behind a constantly evolving game. Possession stats aren’t helping the oilers, canucks or kings very much lately.

    • piscera.infada

      Why are we always looking at reasons why they shouldnt be as good as they are.

      This is what I’ve been asking for the last month or so. I mean, I get the analysis, and I agree with the fact that there is still a lot of work to do with this team. That all said, having every expert constantly telling you how bad this team is time and time again, I must say, I’ve enjoyed this season less than I probably would have if I remained blind to the analysis. The illumination is great, but man, I feel like a goddamn sadist, because I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

      I want to be excited, but I read articles and posts by Lambert, Azvedo, et al. and I can’t figure out if I should be. AT times, it seems like the narrative of the “mirage” means there’s no reason for optimism. I feel very conflicted, and I hope I’m the only one.

      • Skuehler

        And yet they just keep winning. Beating better teams soundly.

        It’s amazing. We’ve been treated to playoff hockey for the last month.

        The thing about possession stats is that they tell how things ought to be, not how they are. That doesn’t interest me much. It’s not dynamic, entirely relevant – it’s speculative.

        I remembee hearing a debate on XM once between two knowledgeable hockey analysts. Does the best team always win? I guess it comes down to what you think. Some say that the team that wins is necessarily the best team. Others argue that due to bounces, etc, the best team does not always win. One view is pragmatic and literal. The other is more philosophical.

    • Burnward

      My man!

      You take the fancy stats and then try to determine why a team either fits into the “norm” or not.

      To think every case is the same is ludicrous.

      • Section205


        Can someone please look at shot quality???? Possession numbers seem to be all anyone focuses on around here… Just feels like we are only ever getting half the story.

        Also, if I never hear “regression to the mean” again I will die a happy man.

        Lambert – I appreciate your take, however, it feels like a beat down… Take it easy on us readers.

  • everton fc

    My “two cents”:

    1. We don’t take stupid penalties; this team is more disciplined than most, which is impressive, given the number of rookies and “young guys” we have,

    2. Goaltending kept us in games we should have lost, early on. Give us 8-10 points here, perhaps.

    3. Monahan’s improvement, Gaudreau’s immediate impact, surprising play from Bouma, Jooris, Girodano, Brodie… Colborne’s improvement… Wideman’s offence…Russell’s improvement into a legitimate 3/4 option on defence… Hudler’s steady influence on the score sheet, and in the room.

    4. Of late, secondary scoring.

    5. Massive improvement down the middle. This includes faceoffs.

    6. No injuries we can’t deal with. Depth on the farm has helped here, but in particular, outside Smid, no injuries on the backend. Huge.

    7. Most importantly, Hartley. Coach of the Year. Has to be. And a coaching staff working with him without fame or fanfare, none getting much press, but getting the job done.

  • BurningSensation

    Is it possible the solution is something as simple as fitness? The Flames are outperforming in the third because the other team is more gassed than we are?

    Also, I thought our PDO had been steadily diving since it was at 104 something early in the season, to the 101 and change it is now. Wouldn’t that indicate that we were lucky early on, but that our current results are much less luck driven?

      • RedMan

        I read his comments as sarcasm, did i misjudge? or are you agreeing with the statement that the team is better? i might have misattributed sarcasm to the comment

        • Avalain

          A comment by Lambert saying that the team is better because they have a high PDO? Definitely legit. There’s no way Lambert would EVER have anything BAD to say about the Flames.

          Getting away from the sarcasm for a minute, I prop’ed his post because it’s clever and (unfortunately) accurate.

          • Derzie

            The problem with Lambert’s post isn’t what he said (i.e. PDO-fueled success), but what he didn’t, namely that it is all unsustainable LUCK. He needs to dig deeper…

    • Section205

      Snotty, as always buddy. That’s why I skip all your articles now. But now I have to read your comments here anyway.

      If Flames are so bad, Lambert, then why are they basically even at shots-for/against overall?

      Easy… has team stats, and look at Penalty Kill time. They measure how many more PP minutes than PK minutes every team has. Calgary leads the league by a country mile. Over 100 mins this season of extra man advantage. 2 minutes every game. Winnipeg (one of our possession darlings) gives away 77 mins being shorthanded so far this season. Average team would be close to zero.

      It’s not the Flames drawing extra power plays. It’s that they take WAY fewer minor penalties than other teams.

      Obvious strategy 5-on-5 is to (1) give people space on the outside, without taking penalty. Then (2) block shots. (3) Quick transition and create scoring chances on the rush. And (4) try to take advantage of your extra 2 mins of power play every game. ITS WORKING. I think the Flames are +100 shots on goal at PP vs PK.

      Flames block almost 33% of shot attempts. League average is to block about 26%. Opponents miss the net more often too, likely because of shot blocking effort. Opponents NEED a little extra possession at 5-on-5 just to keep up in shots on goal for the entire game.

      Flames score on 4.75% of shot attempts which is about league average. Goals Against is only 3.8% of shot attempts against. And yet save percentage is merely average, because we are among league leaders in lowest shots against.

    • RealMcHockeyReturns

      Yeah and the goaltending is average not like you like to report that there goaltending is saving there whole season. This just shows that the Corsi can not be the valued stat that you think it is Lambert you need to watch the hockey team to have any value in your articles which I never read anymore cause your only a negative person and Bob Hartley’s team is built on positives

    • Section205

      First off, a great summation with data that at least for a start speaks for itself and is very detailed.

      As for your comment Lambert, well, at least you’re consistent, I’ll give you that.

      Yes, the team is much better. How do we know? Look at the results. Goaltending has improved significantly to about league average (very sustainable) and shooting % is also up. Cross down…. yeah, yeah, yeah but the Flames lead the NHL in Blocked Shots so I’m guessing FF numbers would be different. The Flames whole attack is focused on setting up an open shot in the slot, whether off the rush, the D activating or sneaking a man in behind the defence. Their focus on higher % shots and and their offensive schemes lead to higher results. Is that sustainable? I guess we’ll see.

      On defence they pretty much play a box zone, protecting the centre of the ice, but resulting in a lot of shot attempts from distance which are less dangerous unless they get through and there are big rebounds. Even then the Flames are pretty good at swatting pucks out of the box and resetting. Its effective, but perhaps not pretty or Corsi-favourable.

      Yes, the team is much better this year. Let’s keep up the analyses, maybe someday we’ll truly know why.

  • MWflames

    Excessively high shooting percentage from the slot you say?

    This ladies and gentleman is known as the g”Gaudreau Effect”

    A very rare phenomenon, but most effective when one can master it…

  • PrairieStew

    Many had the Flames in the McDavid derby to begin the season because:

    1)they did finish 26th last year and

    2)the team was losing one of its only known scorers in Mike Cammalleri.

    They are much better because :

    1) The goaltending in measurably better – McDonald and Berra played alot early on and were barely saving .900. Hiller, Ramo and Ortio all better than that.

    2) Giordano missed 14 games (4-10 I think) and Wideman missed 42- which meant that Chris Butler played all 82

    3) Johnny Gaudreau is better than Mike Cammalleri

    4)This year’s version of Monahan, Colborne, Bouma, Russell all better than last year.

  • Burnward

    Also. This team wants to and believes it can win more than most teams out there, based on my judgment of their compete.

    You can shoot this down all you want, but heart and desire comes from those leading the way.

    Gio and the rest of the leadership group demand 60 minutes each night. It’s a culture of heart and effort we’re seeing. This is now Flames hockey.

    Not everything can be quantified.

  • piscera.infada

    Discipline, as mentioned by several, is key.

    Flames 2013 – 2014 – Minors 266 (5th best). 3.24+ minors per game.

    Flames 2014 – 2015 – Minors 152 (2nd best). 2.92+ minors per game. Prorates to 240 per full season.

    The differential is – 26 minors per season and assuming an 80% penalty kill rate, the difference is 5.2 goals per season different that the Flames are not giving up. That could be as many as 10 points, over the course of season, given the number of one goal games they played last year and this.

    The bigger difference is probably deployment. Several of Calgary’s better players of 2014 – 2015 don’t play a lot of PK time, Hudler and Johnny Gaudreau, for example. By not taking penalties, the better players are on the ice more and, btw, your better defensive players are not as gassed later in the games because they had to play as much on the penalty kill.

    Or, you know, luck.

  • Burnward

    I’d suggest that the way the Flames D activate off the rush lends to that high slot shooting percentage.

    The Russell goal the other night was a great example. Wideman and Gio have been excellent at this all season long as well.

    It strikes me less as luck and more as good coaching, game planning by Hartley to utilize his backend to create more chances and clean looks.

    But, that’s just, like, my opinion, man.

  • Skuehler

    Isn’t it inspiring to cheer for an over-achieving underdog that checks their egos, goes to work and plays as a team?!

    And isn’t it fun that the biggest debate right now among flames fans is WHY we are winning.

  • Skuehler

    How about just enjoying the season so far? Most realistic fans are still not convinced that we are going to make the playoffs (or that we even should!). But when you look at the last few seasons of Iggy, Tanguay, Kipper etc; bad “fancy stats” and all its still great to go to games and watch on TV.(and hope!)

  • RedMan

    save percentage (better goaltending) and shooting percentage… these account for the great goal differential the Flames enjoy.

    Remember – last season we lost a lot of 1 goal games, this season we are winning more of these –

    goal tending and better shooting percentage… these are the statistical differences… better players is the underlying reason. better goaltending, better forwards, better defense

  • Burnward

    I agree with Burnward. Can this analysis be done on the back half of the 2013-14 season, when Brodano started doing this a lot more and the team started to see a bit more success?

    It’s also fascinating that everyone on the team seems to have a high shooting percentage. Not all the players on the team can be that lucky if they are supposed to regress toward the mean. This speaks to systems being employed more than just plain old luck. (And, as stated, if it’s a deliberate system, it means that good coaching can devise effective countering systems too, especially during long playoff series.)

    • RedMan

      Can I prop this 4 times as well. Not only are systems being implemented to work off of the strengths key players, the players are also executing the systems which also can be linked to their success. I’m sorry, but I just don’t see 60 minutes of luck from the Flames over the last 10 games. Wins have been earned.

  • Derzie

    Many FN posters have heavily criticized BT with bringing in Bolig and Engelland and laugh at the value of there contracts. They measure there success based on goals scored. Little are they aware of the toughness and grit they bring every game. Of course there preference is to have 23 soft pansies on the team who try and score goals on every shift and ignore the contribution these players have brought the Flames. Games from here on in are going to get brutally tough and these are the type of players that will be required to make everyone on that roster braver and balance the opposition toughness.

    Look at the standings…have Engelland and Bolig not played most of the games?

    • everton fc

      I can’t say I disagree with this, other than Engelland’s -14 and Bollig’s -7. But they do add a dimension necessary down the stretch.

      I’ve always liked a gritty group. Why I hope Ferland and Poirier make it. Ditto Austin Carroll. I’ve always like these types of players.

  • Burnward

    Paralysis by Analysis!

    Lets see BASIC information before strutting out fancy stats:

    Compare with 2013-14:

    Wins, Losses, Points
    Goals For, Goals Against, Dfferential
    NHL ranking in above

    Fancy Stats:

    Third Period Compare this season with 2013-14

  • Derzie

    When I look at the scoring chance data I come to a much different conclusion than Pike. The shot attempts are MUCH higher quality than last year. That and better goaltending is worth a lot. It is less about how much you possess the puck and more about the quality of what you do with and without it. Lambert focuses on possession and calls everything else luck. That is a real short sighted conclusion. Possession needs to improve without a doubt if we wish to be a legit cup contender but that does not mean the team is bad. It is just flawed on the way up from a rebuild. And UP is the trend.

    • PrairieStew

      I guess I challenge the absolute notion that corsi equates to possession. Though this is not the Flames m.o. a team that cycles the puck down low for 30 seconds possessing the puck and only gets one shot in that time might have a lower positive corsi event number than a team that shoots off the rush every time up the ice.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    So faceoffs are better, but I don’t think anyone has yet been able to correlate faceoffs with winning, even though it seems obvious.

    Zone starts are worse, which goes hand-in-hand with worse Corsi.

    Save % is better, which makes sense since we have better goalies and maybe slightly better defensemen.

    Shooting % is better, although perhaps unsustainably high, possibly due to the D jumping into the play more (Brodie seems to spend about as much time next to the opposing goal as he does the blue line – I love it!).

  • Section205


    Regarding Defensive Zone starts. I have noticed Hiller freezes the puck more often than previous goaltenders we have seen here. Many times he could be putting the puck into corner for his D-men but instead we have a faceoff in our zone. Didn’t Anaheim used to have odd looking stats too, when he was the #1 guy there?

    Regarding faceoffs, I’m very happy with our regular centremen Monahan, Backlund, Jooris, Stajan and Colborne. Granlund is the guy that was getting murdered on faceoffs, but he had other redeeming qualities and was filling in for injured centres pretty well otherwise.

  • RealMcHockeyReturns

    I love advanced stats but it’s simple: Better save percentage and shooting percentage in 3rd period. A FN article (about 10 ago) suggested Flames trade D-man trade targets, it suggested these guys for Flames to go after: Buf: Myers. Ari: Michalek or Yandle. Car: Sekera. Tor: Cody Franson. Edm: Petry. Ott: Wiercioch. Phi: Del Zotto, Coburn…………………………..
    Personally I would NIX Michalek (too old) BUT would ALSO suggest guys from near-cap teams like:
    Bos: McQuaid, Krug, Bartkowski. Phi: add Luke Schenn Chi: Rundblad, Hjalmarsson. Mtl: Emelin TB: Stralman…What do YOU think?

    • everton fc

      Further to your comment I’ve been hearing about what a weapon our cap space is for two years now and we’ve yet to really use it. So many of the contenders are capped out, LA has Richards playing in Manchester, Kane’s contract if he’s traded etc etc.

      A lot of teams are seemingly stuck financially and I’m hoping the “Flames Savings and Loan” is open for business!

      Dreger reporting today that Kings will eat as much as 30% of the Richards contract or take a bad deal back but so far not offering picks or prospects to sweeten the deal. They’ll be stuck with him til they do…

      • piscera.infada

        Elloitt Freidman was on the Fan this morning speaking to exactly this. He says that every time there’s an albatross contract that a team wants to move, you hear Treliving’s name come up. Nothing has happened yet though, because Treliving wants high quality assets to “help” a team out in this way.

        He says that the Cam Ward deal (where Treliving tried to acquire their first pick [Hayden Fleury] at the draft for Ward) set the market for what Treliving expects, and he’s not wavering–especially not in-division (as with the Kings).

        As such, any offer that takes advantage of cap-space is going to be very unpalatable for other teams. However, I agree with Treliving. The Flames are not a charity case.

        • piscera.infada

          Good for Treliving – I’d play it the same way. You can’t underestimate the “get out of jail” card that the Flames are offering and in the Richards case the Kings seem to think there’s value in the player whereas I’m sure Treliving sees very little value there – the prize is in the sweetener.

          To take a super bad contract on in exchange for a mildly bad one does nothing for the Flames UNLESS you have a secondary deal to launder that dirty money so to speak and flip Richards to another team at a reduced salary for futures.

          This is the type of creativity I’m hoping for out of this management team.

  • Section205

    I’m making a wild statement here, but personally I think our improved play is because we got rid of Butler.
    How many times did we saw him make tape to tape passes to the other team and/or fail 99% of the time to get the puck out of our zone? I know one single player won’t let the entire team down but just think of all those one goal games last season, we could of had at least a handful more wins if it wasn’t Butler

  • The Last Big Bear


    They have more “Luck” in the 3rd period. And on the whole they are more “lucky” this season than they were last season.

    Good to know.

    Thank god we’ve made so much progress in advanced stats to answer these questions.