The Calgary Flames are definitely improving

flames 20gm rolling average cf yay

Who doesn’t love to see charts like that? Ones that show a very clear uptick, an increase in whatever it is that they’re measuring. 

And what’s particularly great about this chart, via War on Ice, is that uptick is the Calgary Flames’ corsi for percentage over a 20 game moving average. Before that grey block is the 2014-15 season, which stayed pretty consistent, mired in poor possession – and after is the 2015-16 season to date, in which the Flames have been steadily climbing up.

They may not have the record to match last year, but they’re definitely performing better.

This time last season, the Flames had a 17-10-2 record, good for 36 points and third in the Pacific Division. They had a +12 goal differential, although they were just getting started on their eight-game losing streak.

This time this season, the Flames have a 12-14-2 record, good for 26 points and seventh in the Pacific Division. They have a -26 goal differential, although they’re currently rolling with a four-game winning streak.

What a tale of two seasons, isn’t it? The percentages haven’t been consistent at all.

Season Shooting Percentage Save Percentage Corsi For as a Percentage
2014-15 10.52, 2nd in NHL .911, T-15th in NHL 44.5, 28th in NHL
2015-16 8.76, 18th in NHL .883, 29th in NHL 48.6, 20th in NHL

The percentages that provide immediate gratification have gone down. While last season, the Flames were at the top of the league in terms of shooting percentage and league average in save percentage, this season, the Flames are in the bottom half of the league when it comes to shooting, and they’re right at the bottom when it comes to saving.

There’s one area where they’ve actually improved, though, and it’s an indication of something more likely to translate to long term success: their corsi. This time a year ago, the Flames’ CF was 45.3%. They’re up more than three per cent from that to start this season.

It’s not a linear improvement, though, as these things rarely are. Again via War on Ice, through just this season, with a 10 game moving average:

cgy 2015-16 10 gm cf

Even the Flames’ lowest point this season is still roughly on point with their highest point last season. They’re playing with the puck more.

The Flames have had 14 positive possession games this season (CFs of above 50.00%), 13 negative possession games (CFs of below 50.00%), and one game at a perfect 50.00% (that incredible 5-4 win over the Edmonton Oilers, in which the final corsi event was Michael Frolik’s game-winning goal).

Seven of those 14 positive games have come within their last 10. So either they’re on a streak of playing better right now (and their four-game win streak would attest to that), they’re genuinely improving as the season goes on, or both.

I’m willing to bet it’s both. We know the Flames have, thus far, been better at home than on the road, but they’ve played just six home games in their last 10 games, and four on the road. Only one of them – the Flames’ visit to Anaheim, in which they had a 33.06% CF – has been what you could truly classify a disaster, and I’m not even sure if that’s because it was a disaster or just an extension of the Anaheim curse. (Okay, it was bad, but seriously, Anaheim is probably a gateway to Hell or something.) 

This doesn’t take into account games in which score effects would have taken place, but only two games in the last 10 have had score differentials of greater than two (and, of course, the Flames lost both of them by three goals each). The rest have been pretty close affairs.

Just before this season started, I wondered what success for the Flames would really mean. The general consensus was that, as long as they showed real progression, this would be a good season (though, of course, playoffs would be nice as well).

A third of the way through the season, they’re progressing. This is a season for the long haul, but it’s going well. Loosely defining the Flames’ core for the future as T.J. Brodie, Dougie Hamilton, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Sam Bennett just coming in at the end, there’s been improvement across the board, for the most part.

Player 2014-15 CF% 2015-16 CF%
T.J. Brodie 45.80 50.14
Dougie Hamilton 54.91* 49.72
Johnny Gaudreau 46.18 48.45
Sean Monahan 44.70 45.90
Sam Bennett 46.97** 50.83

* With the Bruins, a better possession team.

** Over 12 games, so the growth isn’t nearly as impressive… but hey, it’s still there.

This is a good season for development so far. If it keeps up, then it’ll have been a good year, regardless of where the Flames ultimately fall in the standings.

Sort out the goaltending (help us Jon Gillies, you’re our only hope?) and within a couple of seasons, the Flames could really grow into something.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    Thank you. You’ve clearly shown what I was trying to get at yesterday, in Ryan’s article (Flames are better at home . . .), albeit much more convincingly.

    Now how many comments before we get the 2014 ‘Flames win corsi, lose game’ meme? Can’t wait.

    • Of course there’s no 1-to-1 relationship with winning to any one stat, the Flames recent 10-game improvement does roughly coincide with much better results.

      Of course, the goaltending and shooting have also improved recently. Now they need to continue to drive play, but figure out the special teams, which are legitimately bad.

      • cberg

        Just off the cuff I’m thinking there’s more shooting, therefore better Corsi, worse shots, less scoring…. Anybody got the details on shots versus last year?

      • MontanaMan

        Play has been noticeably better and the goaltending statistics have improved but the goaltenders are 2A and 2B at best. The Flames need to upgrade the goaltending immediately if they have any thoughts of making the playoffs.

    • ChinookArchYYC

      What fan wouldn’t want more wins, but what’s wrong with wanting both?

      It’s more fun watching the Flames dominate opponents on the ice and in the boxcars. In the end, winning is all that matters.

      • Cfan in Vic

        Exactly. Who doesn’t love winning.

        There were so many games last year, where the Flames just somehow pulled it out of the fire in the last minute (literally) and won despite being out played for much of the game. That’s fun, but I’m looking forward to a time when they win consistently, and the reason for that victory is more substantial than “Because… Um… Flames!”.

        • RKD

          The Flames pulled so many games out of the fire last year because their PP and PK were much better than this year. This is the biggest stat working against the Flames this year, as well as taking more penalties.

  • BurningSensation

    The big concern out of those numbers for me is Sean Monahan. Even with the improvements he’s made, he is badly underwater in the role he has.

    For the Flames to really be successful we need a #1C who can drive possession.

    On the whole though, this is massively encouraging. If we’d been asked whether we would exchange a handful of wins for a sustainable increase in driving possession, I know would have chosen the latter.

    • Kevin R

      The players that can dominate & be dominant possession players game after game is rare. Look at Tavares, he’s even struggling lately & last I looked, he & Monahan both have 22 points. Does that mean Tavares isn’t a possession driving #1 centre? We have to stop pigeon holing players because their “possession” stats are low. Monahan is going to be fine, he knows how to score. Backlund is a strong possession player but his biggest knock is he doesn’t score enough. Is Monahan the best #1 centre out there? Nope. & as a team you have to strive to improve. Will Bennett be a better #1 centre? Maybe. Am I glad we have both these young guys as our future? Your darn tooting!!

    • Kevin R

      Curious to see how the uptick in stats translates in the coming weeks on the road. Is it cause or effect? I’m optimistic, but only a few weeks winning without last change will answer it.

      I think we need to cut Monny some slack. He is young, and didn’t have a sophmore slump. Look at Edmonton, it’s taken 10 years for their 1st overalls to start producing. You’d think we could have at least 2 years patience to let a young kid develop. That said, I never have, and still don’t believe he is an elite player. Good, solid, 2nd line. But not a true elite star.

      Semi related, how good would Leon Draisaitl look feeding Johnny for the next decade…

      Don’t get me wrong, I still like Sam, but we really do need another elite young player, hopefully a C to cycle low, set things up and overpower D. I’m not sure Sam will be that guy. Will he?

        • Kevin R

          I never said he wasn’t good. I just asked if he is realy the #1c we need to take on Getzlaf, Thornton and the rest of he beast centres in the W.

          I see people are sensitive about this. Sorry to be realistic and ask honest questions

          Miscasting players is dangerous. It puts too much pressure on them and creates a failure feedback loop.

          I think Monny has been miscast as a 1st line player. We need another elite star to play with Johnny. I said imagine having Draisaitl, not instead of SB. I’d like Benette and SM on the 2nd line. Johnny and a big power C at #1. Not likely to happen, but I can dream.

          My position stands that we need a #1C and I’m not sure we have one.

          • Cfan in Vic

            It’s a valid question, but not one that needs to be asked right now because he’s only 19 years old. That question needs to be asked when he’s coming to fruition, and players like Getzlaf (your example) are on the decline.

            At his age and development stage, I don’t think there’s any reason to think he won’t be a true elite Center.

            I’ll also add that a long term plan of Bennett on Monahan’s wing is a bad one. They’re both going to be playing center, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Mony ended up on the 2nd.

          • OKG

            Sam’s already shown he’s going to be the #1C to take on McDavid when he stickchecked the crap out of Connor. He will match up to most #1Cs in the league – Crosby, Seguin, Datsyuk, etc

            Jankowski (with Monahan on his wing) is the #1C to take on the big ones – Draisaitl/Kopitar/Getzlaf. He also looked great against Eichel.

            Backlund is the #2C to take on the rest – Hopkins, Kesler, Plekanec etc.

            Our center depth is looking great when you add in other guys in the system – Arnold and Grant especially. Just don’t fall too in love with Monahan at center. It’s good for him to know the position well, but pidgeonholing him when he can be playing high on defense for a quick breakout makes so much more sense due to his mediocre skating

  • KACaribou

    Last game on TV they put up a stat that the Flames are the #1 team in the NHL for creating quality scoring chances 5 on 5.

    That’s a positive.

    The negative being that their shooting percentage is down, so even though they are creating great chances they aren’t putting them in. But it’s getting better.

    I would have liked to have seen how many quality scoring chances they have been giving up this year, to see if it equates to the reduced save percentages. Assuming Hiller and Ramo were giving up an equal amount of soft goals last season as this year, giving up more quality chances to the opposition could be one cause of a lousy save percentage.

    PP and PK are both poorer than last season. Plus the number of penalties taken by the Flames is way up, which is even more telling.

    Although I think Corsi does point accurately towards deficiencies and improvements, I believe the differential in quality scoring chances for and against trumps any Corsi stats.

    If we are creating more quality chances than giving up, we’re on our way… if we can ever get our special teams and goaltending under control.

  • MontanaMan

    Enough comparing Bennett to drisatial as this team adds pieces in the rebuild we’re only gonna get to see how good this kid is he’s not playing with top six players right now but is still contributing wait till he has some talent to play with before we give drisatal the better player title

    • KACaribou

      I agree with you. Not wishing Leon Draisiatl bad luck. He looks like a great pick for the Oil. But I love the way Bennett plays too.

      Making decisions based on a very short portion of a time-line is dangerous. You could pick a brief time-line in Brad Park’s career where he looked like he might be a better D-man than Bobby Orr. But obviously not taking into account the entire time-line. No offense to the great Brad Park.

      It’s like determining a 10 year weather trend is accurate, when the Earth is 8,000,000,000 years old. Likely not accurate.

      • TurkeyLips

        “It’s like determining a 10 year weather trend is accurate, when the Earth is 8,000,000,000 years old. Likely not accurate”

        Did you just bring that baloney into a Flames board? Never change Alberta, never change.

  • RKD

    Now how do we get all three areas in our favour over a long period? Very good to see them improving their possession game, we need to be a possession team if we want to be a contender. Kind of funny to see our sh% and save% go down but our possession game to go up. I bet if we had all three at high levels we would be a division leader or close to the top.

  • KACaribou

    I think I saw every Flames game last year and I only remember a few where they were ridiculously outplayed. Possession doesn’t necessarily mean outplayed.

    I personally don’t care if the opposition has possession of the puck for 5 minutes and produces 5 shots from the blueline (when Russel didn’t block them). Tell me how many REAL chances were created.

    A good team can keep the shots to the outside most of the night and make a goalie’s save percentage look pretty fantastic. Every shot counts the same, whether it be from the blueline, or when the goalie makes a diving save after a tick-tac-toe passing play from just outside the crease.

    I remember last year as a season where the Flames had just as many quality scoring chances as the opposition most games, and quite a few times more than the opponent.

    They may not have had possession numbers but they had quality chances as often as the opponent. That’s why their record was so good.

    Poor special teams play, and the new D-pairings giving up too many quality scoring chances is what caused the Flames to start the season so terribly. That is slowly being corrected.

    • OKG

      The problem is that in the games where they were outplayed, the most notable of which being the Ducks series and the February game against the (motivated/clicking) Kings, they weren’t just outplayed, they were ragdolled to the point of futility.

      You need to be able to win games/series like that to win a cup. THose are games where counterattacking falls apart. You need size, speed, compete, and skill.

    • Cfan in Vic

      I’m not much of a corsi counter, and usually grade the team’s performance by an eye-test combination of zone time and scoring chances. I definitely remember watching more than a few games where they were outplayed, but won (I watched every game except one absolute spanking in St Louis).

      I don’t want to pick knits here though, I realize my perception is not necessarily the same as everyone else.

      In a nutshell, I recall a lack of bulk scoring chances (in several games), being balanced by a super high shooting %. Special teams absolutely stink this year, and if we were matching last years performance in these categories, it would obviously help immensely. I also think that if special teams and goal tending were as good this year as last, the end product we’d be seeing would be much better than last year, due to the slow and steady improvements in their execution (resulting in increased corsi numbers).

  • ChinookArchYYC

    “Corsi begets scoring chances, scoring chances beget goals, and even over the course of a full season the hockey gods have a huge say in a player’s scoring (and outscoring) results, and a big say in the same results for the team.

    And while corsi may not be a perfect measure of territorial advantage, it’s still terrific, moreso than any of us thought, I’m sure.

    You can make a good estimate of a player’s scoring chance numbers by using his corsi. And I suspect that the difference is largely luck, scoring chances drifts toward the highly repeatable corsi.” – Vic Ferarri

  • Kevin R

    It is critical for the Flames core (Bennett Monahan Gaudreau Brodie Hamilton) to keep improving year to year. This list urgently requires a veteran goaltender if we are to make significant progress in the standings. Regardless the focus should remain primarily on player development including measuring the performance of the high end prospects in Stockton as well as junior.

    Trading non-core assets in return for a credible goaltender to fill the gap until Gillies is ready in 2 years is essential but not at the expense of high end prospects and draft choices. If absolutely necessary then the UFA market for goaltenders is the next step…..