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.)
Now the flames have them right where they want them…
— Ryan Pike (@RyanNPike) March 7, 2015
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…
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.
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.
WHO’S DRIVING IT?
It’ll be a bit shocking to learn that Calgary’s best players are their best players when the team is behind.
- 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.