After Saturday’s win, the immediate thought in my mind was “Where the heck was this on Wednesday night?” The Flames were, quite bluntly, much better than they were in their uninspired season-opener at the ‘Dome.
But specifically, what did they do differently? Based on video and the numbers: a lot of things.
On a team basis, the Flames tended to hold onto the puck a lot more in Vancouver than they did in Calgary. While their carry-in percentage was only 2.2% higher (35.7% at home versus 37.9% on the road), they employed the “dump-and-chase” method a lot less than they did in the opener (30% at home, 24.3% on the road).
A good degree of that variation can be explained by one guy: Johnny Gaudreau. Traditionally one of the better players in terms of entering a zone and using his speed to create different “looks” and open up shooting and passing lanes, he was much more effective in Vancouver than at home. Gaudreau only had four clean zone entries in the opener (with three carry-ins), compared to 11 entries and 9 carries in Vancouver.
An oft-mentioned phrase is “to win, your best players have to be your best players.” Gaudreau was at his best in the second game. The first line combined for 18 entries, 9 carries in the opener, compared to 19 entries and 13 carries in the second game. The difference is attributable to Gaudreau finding his wheels.
The change in personnel on the second line was also a pretty significant adjustment: Bouma, Backlund and Frolik combined for 21 entries and 9 carry-ins in the first game, while Raymond, Bennett and Frolik combined for 21 entries and 11 carry-ins in the second game. The two carries isn’t a massive difference on its own, but an increase in carries typically results in an increase in zone time.
Admittedly, the game in Calgary wasn’t an amazing example of possession hockey on either side, as each team played fairly sloppy. But the Flames were a bit sloppier.
We’re tracking “hem-in shifts” this year, which are loosely defined as shifts where a team keeps the puck in the opposition zone for 30 seconds or more without a face-off, clearing or other whistle. Basically, it’s meant as an additional layer of possession data, and can also be used to see how teams are controlling the puck and wearing down the opposition.
In Game 1, the Canucks hemmed the Flames in on four occasions (three at even-strength) and the Flames managed just a single long journey into the Vancouver end.
In Game 2, it was a different kettle of fish. The Canucks managed five hem-in shifts (four at even-strength). Calgary? They managed seven of them, with six of them coming at even-strength and they managed four long shifts in the Canucks end in the third period – while Vancouver answered back with zero.
In other words: the Flames held onto the puck a bit more as they went into the offensive zone, and then managed to use that puck possession to wear the Canucks down.
Individuals who were hemmed in a lot? Matt Stajan, David Jones, Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman.
Individuals who hemmed in the Canucks and helped wear them down? Jiri Hudler, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton.
CORSI & SCORING CHANCES
For the second game in a row, among Calgary’s best possession players were the third pairing of Brett Kulak and Deryk Engelland. The better news is that they were joined on that list by players that are paid to score goals: the entirety of the first two lines (Hudler, Gaudreau, Monahan, Bennett, Frolik and Raymond) were strong on both Corsi and Scoring Chance differentials, as measured by our pals at War On Ice.
Leading the Flames in terms of Individual Scoring Chances? The top six! (In order: Hudler, Raymond, Gaudreau, Monahan, Bennett and Frolik.)
Leading the Flames in Individual High-Danger Scoring Chances: Hudler, Raymond and Gaudreau were tied for the team lead with two each.
In the opener, Mikael Backlund and Lance Bouma led in Individual Scoring Chances, while Backlund and David Jones led in High-Danger Chances.
Again, the data says that the fact that the top six showed up in Vancouver was the biggest difference between the two games.