One way the Flames were able to achieve such success throughout the 2014-15 season was by drawing more penalties than they took. They led the league in power play vs. penalty kill differential, with a whopping 123:08 more spent with the man advantage than without.
And it paid off for them. Where they really shone was their 36 goals allowed on the kill: fourth best in the league. That wasn’t due to their exceptional kill – their PK% was only 80.6%, 20th in the NHL – but because they simply weren’t taking penalties.
That’s not quite the case to start the 2015-16 season.
Not the best anymore
Things can, of course, change in an instant. However, through the first 21 games of the season, the Flames have only spent 39 extra seconds with the man advantage than down a guy. While in 2014-15, their 186 times shorthanded was the best in the league, in 2015-16, their 59 times shorthanded is sixth best.
And while that’s not a steep drop, it’s costly when you’re only killing 74.6% of your penalties, and you’ve allowed 15 power play goals against. The Flames’ goaltending hasn’t been great, but 20% of their goals against have come when down a man, compared to the 17% of the previous season.
In theory, the Flames shouldn’t be down a man so often. They didn’t subtract from their lineup, after all; rather, they added to it. But that hasn’t been the case, and poor discipline and even poorer special teams are another thing killing them that weren’t the season they had success.
Player penalty differentials
The below charts only feature regulars for the Flames throughout these seasons, with regulars meaning someone who has played at least 30% of the team’s games. So while guys like Ladislav Smid in 2014-15 or Brett Kulak in 2015-16 weren’t exactly around a lot, they were around long enough to make note of their performances when it came to taking and drawing penalties.
- Thirteen Flames drew more penalties than they took, while six were on the wrong end of things more often than that. Giordano and Smid are in the neutral category, taking and drawing equal amounts.
- Most of the Flames who were successful at drawing penalties are still with the Flames. From that category, they’ve only lost Diaz (who only drew one), Granlund (because he’s been in the AHL), Byron (waivers), and Bouma (injury). Their heavier hitters, like Gaudreau, Jooris, and Wideman, are still on board.
- Glencross, one of the Flames’ penalty differential detractors, is gone. The others’ presence on the lineup isn’t surprising: Backlund and Stajan tend to get more defensive zone starts, Bollig and Engelland have limited skill sets that tend to result in this sort of thing, and Colborne often has questionable decision-making (although to this extent was a little much).
- The highs aren’t as high and the lows aren’t quite as low, but we’re only a quarter of the way through the season.
- Seven Flames have drawn more penalties than they have taken, while eight Flames are the opposite. Six are in the neutral area, including Grant and Kulak, who haven’t been on the team full time.
- Here’s the biggest problem: Giordano is taking a lot of penalties, and Giordano averages 24:01 a night, the second most on the Flames. He plays a lot, and when he’s out there, he isn’t drawing penalties, he’s taking them. Hamilton is in the same boat.
- The only defenceman actually drawing penalties is Brodie. One guy out of four (five if you count Monahan) who plays over 20 minutes a night has a positive penalty differential.
- (That isn’t fair to Johnny Gaudreau, who averages 19:48 a game, just missing the 20 minute cutoff. Though he isn’t quite as dominant as he was the previous season.)
- Another problem is Jooris, who was a leader in drawing penalties in 2014-15; this season, he’s been taking them left and right. A possible explanation? His relative zone start percentages have plummeted from 4.49 to -3.33
- Seeing Bennett and Gaudreau’s names up near the top makes for another reason to get excited about them being on a line in the future. If they don’t score a goal with their stellar puck movement, chances are they’re going to at least get themselves a power play to try again.
Taking fewer penalties leads to fewer goals against. The Blackhawks’ one goal in the Flames 2-1 overtime victory? On the power play. Through nine games in November, they’ve given up power play goals in six of them.
But no matter how much the percentages may be going against you – no matter how poor your goalies may have been to start the year – having the fourth worst kill in the NHL isn’t doing any favours, particularly when you’re down a man more often than you were before.
But ultimately, a lot of things simply went right for the Flames last season, and drawing more penalties than they took was a part of that. Giordano’s numbers this year are bad, but his differential of 0 last year was the best of his career. Hamilton was a poor differential player during his time in Boston, and we only have one year of Jooris to go off of, so we don’t know what his true abilities regarding drawing and taking penalties are.
The only consistent names from this year and last when it comes to actually drawing penalties are Gaudreau, Brodie, Hudler, and Jones: arguably the Flames’ two best players, and two veterans. Frolik is traditionally good at drawing calls as well, and since he’ll be around for a few years yet, he should add to that. And of course, Bennett looks very promising so far.
That’s only four names to really count on. So far, the Flames are failing to meet expectations the 2014-15 may have set, fairly or not: and drawing calls is, thus far, one of those failures.