Let’s Talk About Comebacks

The Calgary Flames are not the National Hockey League’s greatest team. They often get out-shot. They usually get out-chanced. But despite all these faults, the Calgary Flames have consistently found their way back into games, and that’s been the big difference-maker for them this season.

It’s gotten to the point where we all expect comebacks. (The following tweet was when they were down 2-0 in Detroit this week.)

Last night, the Calgary Flames busted out perhaps their most impressive comeback. Down four goals, on the road, on the final night of the season’s longest road trip, the Flames forced extra time and left our nation’s capital with a point.


Let’s get one thing clear first, the Calgary Flames trail a lot. Through 66 games, the other team has scored first 39 times. (That’s 59% of their games, for the math-inclined.) That means the Flames start just shy of two-thirds of their hockey games behind the eight-ball. They entered 28 second periods trailing (42% of games) and 30 third periods trailing (45% of games).

Despite this handicap, they keep figuring out ways to win.

After last night’s spectacle, the Flames are nearly .500 when trailing after 20 minutes – 12-13-3 – and a pretty darn impressive 10-17-3 when trailing after 40 minutes. They have as many wins when trailing after two periods as the powerhouse Anaheim Ducks – by coincidence their next opponents.

For the curious…

Scores First
After 20
After 40
2014-15 17-19-3 12-13-3 10-17-3
2013-14 12-33-4 7-25-2 4-27-2
2012-13 12-20-9 1-15-0 1-19-1
2011-12 13-21-9 4-18-4 4-22-6
2010-11 7-21-4 4-17-2 3-22-3

And let’s bear in mind that they have 16 games remaining and, given history, the Flames will probably have another 8 or 10 games when the other team will score first. Given the year so far, it’s an impressive feat that they’ve managed to come back so often.


Calgary’s hallmark this year has been their unsustainable shooting percentage, in the sense that despite being a team that isn’t high on size or established top-line NHL talent – compare them to, say, Chicago or Los Angeles, for instance – they manage to score an awful lot despite giving up a lot of shots to their opponents.

So what makes the Flames so good when trailing?

Here’s them at even-strength while trailing.

Period Shooting
All 8.3% 93.6%
First 4.0% 93.3%
Second 9.3% 94.0%
Third 10.3% 93.2%

If you factor in power-play time and take into account that Calgary takes few penalties – particularly when they’re playing from behind – their shooting percentage in third periods while chasing raises to a shocking 12.3%. That’s CRAZY.


It’ll be a bit shocking to learn that Calgary’s best players are their best players when the team is behind.

At even-strength?

  • Jiri Hudler – 10 goals, 5 assists
  • Mark Giordano – 1 goal, 9 assists
  • Sean Monahan – 4 goals, 5 assists
  • Johnny Gaudreau – 3 goals, 5 assists
  • David Jones – 5 goals, 3 assists

Overall when trailing?

  • Hudler – 13 goals, 12 assists
  • Giordano – 3 goals, 18 assists
  • Gaudreau – 7 goals, 10 assists
  • Monahan – 8 goals, 8 assists
  • Dennis Wideman – 5 goals, 8 assists

And let’s bear in mind that Gaudreau and Monahan are still learning. In this context, it’s pretty damn impressive that the Flames are doing what they are doing.


Is this kind of clip sustainable?

Well, yes and no.

Yes in the sense that the team appears to be in the heads of a lot of other teams. When Joe Colborne scored against Ottawa, and especially when Kris Russell scored the goal to make it 4-2, you could see the Ottawa bench slumping in defeat, despite a two-goal lead, because they felt the game slipping away. And soon after, their feelings and suspicions became reality. (If they miss a playoff spot on the regulation/overtime wins tie-breaker, this game will really come back to haunt ’em.)

It takes a special kind of team to come back from a 4-0 deficit, and it takes very specific conditions to cause a team to blow a 4-0 lead at home. As much as the Flames believe that they can come back from any deficit – and they do have that belief, it seems – they are doing just as much to incite that belief (or dread) in their opponents.

At least, for now.

That said, the Flames still are a bottom-six possession team in the third period and are relying on shot-blocking, gumption and high percentage chances to get wins late in games. At some point, pucks will stop going in. Or teams will be a bit more resistant to giving them the center of the ice. I mean, in a seven-game series, at some point teams will learn and adapt and prevent these kinds of things. That’s what smart teams tend to do.

But hey, through 66 improbable games, the Flames are making more hay after trailing than they have in years. This kind of insanity is what’s driven them to the verge of a playoff spot. A lot of teams roll over and die after getting down a few goals – Edmonton is 2-26-2 when down after two periods – but the Calgary Flames haven’t so far this season.

  • mattyc

    Hey Ryan, do you have the Time for the SH% SV% table by period? I think it would help give some context to how probable their 4% in the first, or 10% in the third is something real, or just noise.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    There is a lot to be said about the mental aspect of sport and the concept of belief. I have experienced having another team or person in your head and it does affect your game.

    I have also experienced the effect of simply calling a timeout and what it does to your mental state and the state of your opponent.

    Statistics tell us the Flames are a good 3rd period team – many would argue it is unsustainable because stats tell us these things should even out. Yet I think the mental aspect of the game is sometimes the part unexplained by statistics… or things that fall off the either end of the bell curve so to speak.

    The Flames believe they can come back in third periods. It becomes a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If they didn’t believe it… they wouldn’t have a chance – especially the last game of a 7 game road trip where your own bed/wife is calling your name.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    I’ve saild all-season, CGY winning games is just a bonus; Making the playoffs would be extremely nice to see for the city. In a year two rebuild, the focus should not be on how well our team corsi is – instead, we should focus on the growth of individual players.

    Before the season started, we were asking ourselves specifically how several players would hold up in the NHL. Such as will Monahan still mange to score goals and play solid against non-sheltered minutes: Answer is yes. He held the fort for this team when Backlund got injured early in the season. Monahan, if anything, elevated his game when we all thought he would crash and burn.

    We were also questioning how Gaudreau would hold up in his first NHL season. How would he respond to a crushing NHL hit, road schedule, amount of games, etc. Answer, again, is positive. He’s second in Calder scoring, 5 points behind Forsberg. Let’s not forget, Forsberg is a first round pick.

    The development of Brodie-Gio was also in question – If their performance in the latter stages of the season was fluke. Again, answer is no. It’s almost a confirmed fact that Brodano is elite, and that Gio would have won the Norris if he remained healthy.

    Winning is the cherry on top for this team. They’re getting rewarded with good luck, by playing hard, yet simple hockey (ie: blocking shots, getting pucks on net.)

    Since it’s a year two rebuild, I don’t mind the fact we’re a bottom-five possession team. I would be concerned, however, if the Flames in 2-3 years are still a bottom-five team possession wise. I think management understands this team has been getting lucky, but also have realize the true growth of important players like Monahan, Gaudreau, Brodie, Russel (see Treliving disagreeing to trade Monny/Gaudreau in part of a three-team trade for Kane.)

    Treliving understands this team is still rebuilding, and knows he has a lot of work to be done – Which is why he holds 6 draft choices in the first 3 rounds. That’s one way to keep the rebuild on track.

  • Derzie

    Good write-up and research into an interesting aspect of the Flames season. When the Flames focus on the offence, like last night it is amazing the results. Obviously this is supported by great goal-tending in the third, but also by the all-in attack that presents so many opportunities, good to great opportunities.

    Personally I believe the higher shooting percentage is a combination of higher quality shots when they flood the zone and/or crash the net in combination to some panic in the opposition. Both I think are sustainable however in a 7-game series I agree other teams can counter and the Flames would have to be able to adjust.

  • Derzie

    Please STOP using the word ‘luck’ when describing the Flames. Please. Ryan is on the right path by looking at the numbers behind the comebacks. Analyse those results and draw a conclusion other than ‘luck’. Everything has an element of luck in it but it is not the ONLY thing. Still in the playoffs in March is not just luck. It is more than that.

  • beloch

    You can sure tell that the nation network stems from the Oilers with the way the writers for the most part have refused to get behind this team or give them a shred of credit even though we are now 66 games in

    • beloch

      I live and work amongst Oiler fans. They are a very quiet group these days. They put the demise of there beloved team squarely on Katz and the way he treats his team like a kid with a toy.

      There are many closet Flames fans up here that will come out of the woodwork when the playoffs begin.

      Also some fans embarrassed that they are in line for another top pick.

  • beloch

    Someone had mentioned before that “luck” should be changed to “intangibles” which would include non quantifiable things such as heart, conditioning, as well as luck. Kind of makes sense after watching this years edition of the flames.

    I mean if people can see they have a crazy work ethic and desire to win, why should it be discredited to luck? I see them going ham more often than getting a fortuitous bounce.

  • beloch

    A big part of last night’s comeback was getting Engelland the hell away from Brodie and top competition. Brodie played with Diaz in the third. I’m pretty shocked to be saying this because of how brutal Diaz was at the start of the season, but he’s a huge upgrade over Engelland when paired with Brodie.

    • beloch

      Both Englland and Diaz are prone to panic.They’ve both played good games ,and give you the impression that they are settling in,and than everything falls apart and back comes the panic.

    • The Last Big Bear

      Diaz has been a rock since February. Engelland was just a bad signing and he actually drags Diaz down too. I’d rather have Smid or Wotherspoon over Engelland.

  • The Real Slim Brodie

    I really wanna see Wotherspoon get atleast a game or two this year we need to see how he has improved from last year where he started to come on strong…Love this team if we get into the playoffs we have a chance at a (magic) run….I bet we go down 3-0 in the series and come back to win….truly cementing the nickname the come back kids in history