The Calgary Flames have been one of the NHL’s worst possession teams this season. Whether you want to look at shots, Corsi, Corsi Close, Fenwick, Fenwick Close or any other metric, the Calgary Flames are not super amazing at puck possession.
As a result, Calgary’s special teams are going to be crucially important for the team to continue to have success, particularly if the club makes the post-season.
So let’s talk about the power-play!
WHO’S ON IT?
The Flames operate primarily with two power-play units. Presently, the two main units are as follows:
- Mason Raymond, Mikael Backlund, David Jones, Raphael Diaz and Mark Giordano
- Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Jiri Hudler, Dennis Wideman and T.J. Brodie
Bob Hartley staffs his power-play units with offensive players, but he also has a tendency to put guys that are struggling offensively on the PP to get them going. You’re more likely to get puck touches on the power-play and better offensive looks, and there’s a line of thinking that those experiences will build confidence and momentum at 5-on-5. Devin Setoguchi, Markus Granlund and others have seen ice time as a result, as have guys like Curtis Glencross, Josh Jooris and Joe Colborne.
The Flames also like to have a mix of left and right shots on the power-play. Kris Russell recently was cycled off the power-play to make room for Diaz, who fits both the right-handed and “guy who needs to get going offensively” descriptions. But even with Diaz on the top unit, the Flames are very heavy on lefties.
WHAT’S THE STRATEGY?
Providing they can enter the zone and set up shop, the Flames primarily operate an umbrella power-play.
One forward stands in the slot. The other forwards rotate onto the side boards to open up outside passing lanes. The two defenders rotate around on the point.
The general strategy is thus: passes along the outside of the zone to create traffic and screens in front of the goalie. This usually results in one of two kinds of shots:
- Point shots from the very top of the “key” (e.g., just inside the blueline near the middle of the ice) through the maximum amount of bodies, both Flames and opponent. The idea here is the goalie can’t see what’s coming…or the puck glances off an ankle or two and creates a rebound chance.
- Shots from the far edges of the ice (e.g., the edge of the face-off circles) that, because of angles, get kicked out by the goalie into the slot or far side of the ice and create rebound chances.
The idea is, either way, to use movement and bodies to create screens and confusion on initial shots, then crash the net for rebounds.
DOES IT WORK?
The biggest problem with the Flames is that they don’t have much in the way of elite offensive talent. Well, not yet.
So they make do with what they have. Pittsburgh and Chicago have excellent power-plays that rely on puck movement to create space for their talented players to work. Calgary doesn’t have a lot of high-end talent, so one could argue that even if they had high-end talent, it’d be kind of a waste to use puck movement to create that space.
So the club is tailoring their strategy to what they have to work with.
The downside is the team is shooting pucks (a) through traffic that is by-design or (b) from wide angles to create rebounds. That means they’re purposefully taking low-percentage initial chances because they think they can fight their way to the high-percentage rebounds.
The Flames have scored 31 power-play goals this season (17th in the NHL) in 179 opportunities (9th in the NHL), scoring on 17.3% of their chances (22nd in the NHL). So…they’re doing okay, but compared to the league average they’re punching below their weight a bit.
But all things considered, the strategy probably isn’t the worst one they could be using.