Winning hockey games on the road is tough. Your players aren’t familiar with the boards and their bounces. They aren’t familiar with the quality of the ice surface, so they don’t know if there are any rough spots or weird quirks. Playing on the road throws them out of their well-honed routines. And that also ignores the bigger tactical issues of playing away from home: the other side gets to dictate match-ups, potentially negating the strengths of your team’s best players.
So it’s probably not shocking to learn that the teams that do well on the road, particularly on long stretches away from home, are most often the teams that make the post-season. In the case of the Calgary Flames, looking at the past three seasons under head coach Bob Hartley, you can somewhat trace the team’s progression from veteran-filled also-ran to aspiring playoff team based on how they did on road trips (of three games or longer).
The lockout-shortened season featured five three-plus game trips. The most notable of them was the California trip where the Flames lost all three games, and decided to finally trade away Jarome Iginla and begin a rebuild. If there’s a more important three-game trip in team history, I don’t know what it was.
Anyway, the Flames lost the majority of games on four of their five long trips – with the only trip they did well on being a three-game jaunt early in the season where they got five of six points. Their combined record on their five long trips was a woeful 4-11-1, for a points percentage of 28.1. Yikes.
Bob Hartley’s first full season, the first rebuilding season, was slightly better on long trips. The Flames again had five three-plus game trips. The club managed at least one win on every trip, though they managed just one win on every long trip until their final long trip of the season, in which they went 3-2-0 for their only winning record on a long trip of the season.
Combined, the Flames went 7-13-2 on long trips in 2013-14. That calculates to a points percentage of 36.4, which was a slight improvement over the tire-fire of a road record they had in the previous year.
Last season, the Flames had a LOT of long road trips by virtue of the Brier booking up the Saddledome for a large chunk of the season. All-told, they had seven three-plus game trips, including a seven-game trip, a six-game trip, and two five-game trips. They had winning records in all but one trip – and that was during the December losing skid, a four-gamer in which they lost every single game. Arguably the most crucial trip was the March seven-gamer that spanned the trade deadline, Mark Giordano’s season-ending injury, and a 4-2-1 Flames record.
Combined, the Flames went 19-14-1 on long road trips. As you can see, their much-improved road record was one BIG reason they made the playoffs, as they earned 57.4% of available points on their long trips.
In terms of offensive production overall, the Flames had some surprising players produce away from home. Mason Raymond led the Flames at even-strength goal-scoring on the road in 2014-15, with 9 goals, followed by 8 goals for Jiri Hudler, 6 each for Sean Monahan and Lance Bouma, and 5 each for Markus Granlund, Mikael Backlund and David Jones.
In terms of overall even-strength points on the road? Jiri Hudler (20), Johnny Gaudreau (17), Mason Raymond and Lance Bouma (15), and Mark Giordano and Dennis Wideman (13) were the leaders.
When you scale offensive production by ice-time, the leading goal-scorers per 60 minutes were Mason Raymond, Markus Granlund, Micheal Ferland, Jiri Hudler and Mikael Backlund. Points leaders per 60 minutes were Raymond, Hudler, Backlund, Lance Bouma and Johnny Gaudreau.
The players that are significantly better (per 60 minutes) at offensive production on the road than at home? Mason Raymond, Mikael Backlund, Mark Giordano, Brandon Bollig and Johnny Gaudreau. And those that are better at home than on the road? Sean Monahan, Jiri Hudler, David Jones, Matt Stajan and Dennis Wideman. Keep an eye on that during this season, as they’ll need some of the lesser guys to even things out a bit to be successful.
If the lack of familiar goal-scoring names at even-strength doesn’t clue you in a bit, the Flames needed help to stay hot on the road. And since their special teams generate as many goals for them (20) as they gave up (also 20), that help would have to come from the bounces.
The Flames were the third-worst Corsi team in the NHL on the road last season (ahead of just Buffalo and Colorado), but road the percentages hard away from home. They were the seventh-best team in both shooting percentage and save percentage, which allowed them to have a respectable goal differential (minus-5) despite being so bad at even-strength puck possession. (Their differential was just one less than the Jets and Islanders had on the road.)
In short: the Flames not just survived on the road, but thrived, but a LOT of that was sweet, sweet puck luck. For the Flames to have a hope in hell at making the playoffs, they’ll need to maintain their strong record on long road trips. And for that to happen, they’ll need to radically improve their even-strength puck possession…or hope against hope that the bounces continue to go their way for another year.