The first two months of this season for the Calgary Flames have been absolutely dreadful. No one, not even the Edmonton Oilers, has a worse record than Calgary’s 8-14-2 mark (both teams share the exact same record, in fact). After the excitement of last season, this year has been a disappointment at best, and one that has caught many Flames fans off guard. Most believe this team is capable of more than they’ve shown, but is that accurate?
I was among those expecting some marked regression from the Flames this season. Some of what happened last season was bound to come back to the pack. But I also thought progression from certain individuals, and the addition of others, would help counteract that plummet. Doing some thinking out loud, and attempting to use rudimentary math, I’ve tried to determine how much better this group should be doing. Please discuss and ridicule amongst yourselves.
We all know the Flames were the benefactors of sky high percentages last year. Whether we thought they were legit for being a playoff team or not, no one could deny they received a great deal of good fortune along the way. Some/most of that luck has dried up on them so far this year, which has made the pendulum swing feel a whole lot more dramatic.
So last season Calgary benefitted greatly from having the league’s second best shooting percentage. At 8.9%, only Tampa Bay (9.1%) converted on more of their shots on goal over 82 games. Now, we all thought that number was going to drop back to the pack during the season itself, and it didn’t really. But it has this year.
The Flames are tied for the league’s 17th highest shooting percentage so far this season at 7.1%. Not only are they now in the bottom half of the league, they’ve also seen a significant drop in their conversion rate from a year ago. But their efficiency rate this year is far more representative of what we saw last year.
Right now, the league average even strength shooting percentage is 7.3%. That means Calgary is right in the ballpark of where they likely should be. But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say they should be a couple of ticks higher.
In 24 games, the Flames have managed 562 shots at five-on-five. At a league averaging shooting percentage, we’d be talking about them at 41 even strength goals as opposed to 40. That’s not much of a difference and wouldn’t account for even one more win. Just for fun, if they were at 8.9% like last year, they’d have 50 goals with even man power which would make a solid impact in terms of wins and losses. That sure does make last year a whole lot easier to understand!
Ah yes, everyone’s favourite subject. Just how much better could Calgary be if they had, like, NHL caliber goaltending this year? This has been one of Calgary’s most glaring issues, and their league worst 0.879 team save percentage is proof of that.
The really frustrating part is they actually were a league average team in net last season. The Flames finished tied for 15th with a team save percentage (in all situations) of 0.911 last year. Funny enough, through the first two months of the season, 0.911 is exactly what the league average save percentage is.
Let’s just say that Calgary was able to be decent, not spectacular, but decent in net like they were last season. If so, we’re talking about a massive drop in goals against from 86 to 63 (calculated from 709 total shots against). Now, this does not take into account low danger shots vs. high danger shots and stuff of that nature, but it’s still a startling number.
It’s just as staggering at even strength. Once again, the Flames boast (boast?) the league’s worst even strength save percentage at 0.896 in comparison to the league average of 0.927. In that case, Calgary’s goals against at even power goes 60 to 41 (calculated from 562 shots against). Yikes. I think it’s fair to say we’re talking about a slightly rosier picture with an improved goaltending picture.
Another area of ineptitude this year has been in odd man situations. Calgary currently sits 29th on the powerplay, converting on 13.4% of their opportunities. Their penalty kill is worse, sitting 30th at 70.8%. Again, this is slightly frustrating as the Flames had the league’s 13th best powerplay last year and the league’s 20th best penalty kill. As with the goaltending, we know it can be capable of better because, well, we’ve seen it.
The league average powerplay rate right now is 19.5%. Calculated on 67 total opportunities with the man advantage, Calgary would have 13 powerplay goals as opposed to nine if they were in and around what they were last year.
Similarly with the penalty kill, the Flames would go from 19 goals against to 13 if their penalty kill was what we saw it last season. This year’s league average PK so far is 80.3% while Calgary finished at 80.6% in last year’s campaign.
So right there there’s a potential for four more goals for on special teams and six fewer goals against. Not a perfect science, of course, because there are systematic reasons why this team has been brutal in odd man situations. But they had league average special teams last year, so there’s no reason to expect they shouldn’t at least be in and around that range this year.
One of the truly memorable things about the 2014-2015 season was the numerous third period comeback wins we all witnessed, and enjoyed. Calgary finished last year with a record of 10-20-4 when trailing after the second period. That means they won 29.4% of the time when they found themselves in that situation; they got points 41.2% of the time.
As expected, it’s a different story this year. The Flames are 2-10-1 in that same situation through the first two months. First off, that’s bad because it means they’re in a hole after two periods more often than not. But the puck ain’t bouncing the way it was last year, either, meaning opposing third period leads are being converted to wins far more often.
Quite honestly, I would expect this trend to continue. Doing what they did last year is not something you see on a yearly basis. The most worrying part here is that they are continually finding themselves in this low percentage spot. Funny enough, that’s leading to losses at the rate it probably should, as opposed to the magic of last year.
The Flames are a better team than their dreadful record would suggest. How much better is still hard to tell, even with all of what I just laid out. First off, this team has taken some decent strides in their possession game. From 29th at a rate of 44.4% to 24th at 48.0% isn’t incredible, but it’s also a positive step. They’re generating more shots and spending more time at the right end of the ice.
At the same time, though, they’ve been just awful defensively. As bad as their goaltending has been, they’ve also been asked to do way too much. That’s something these numbers don’t tell you, and it’s why all of the (basic) math above has to be taken with a grain of salt.
That said, I think you can safely say Calgary could have in the neighbourhood of three more wins this season. That’s just a guesstimate (heavy on the guess), but it would put them at 11-11-2 through 24 games as opposed to the muck they’re at right now.
To sum it up, we are definitely not looking at an elite team failing to play to their potential here. We’re talking about an average team that has been very below average. With better goaltending and special teams, I think this is a team flirting with .500. However, knowing the Flames have yet to have more wins on their record this season than losses, flirting with .500 might as well be full on dating it. Instead, this team has been the single dude at a wedding that everybody wants to like, but doesn’t quite understand.