Just how bad is the Flames’ goal differential?

One stat the Flames are last in the league in is goal differential. This can be attributed primarily to bad goaltending (or, at least, very bad percentages). At -25, nobody else has fared worse this season when it comes to scoring.

But a positive goal differential is typically an indication of playoffs. Over the past five seasons, just four teams with a negative goal differential have made the post-season; just six with a positive goal differential did not. 

Five of those six teams that did not make the playoffs were simply they were the worst of the bunch. When there are years in which more than 16 teams have positive goal differentials, somebody is going to have to miss the party by default.

So basically: playoff teams tend to share a trait of having a positive goal differential. It would take a miracle to get the Flames into that territory this season, and yet, they’re just one win out of being in a playoff spot.

That might indicate the Flames’ goal differential isn’t that bad – but really, it is.

A positive goal differential means your team can actually win games. Not just that, but they can win them with authority. Consider the Flames’ outing against the New York Rangers: they turned what should have been a surefire 4-1 victory into an overtime win. Instead of just winning a game, they found a way to barely avoid losing it.

That’s the sign of a team in constant peril, and a team that likely won’t be able to have long-term success. After all, if you can’t trust your team with a three-goal lead, when can you trust them? Scoring five goals is great; giving up four is not.

We all know most of the Flames’ wins have come in overtime. Through 29 games on the season, they’ve won in regulation just five times.

Through 29 games on the season, they’ve won by more than one goal just two times. They’re tied with the New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings for fewest empty net goals in the NHL with just one; in the Flames’ case, it came in a 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. (The Dallas Stars lead the league with 11 empty net goals; they have a goal differential of +23, third in the NHL.)

The five worst

Here’s a quick look at the five teams with the worst goal differential roughly 30 games through the 2015-16 season:

Team Goal Differential Total Wins Wins by 2+ Goals Percentage of Wins by 2+ Goals
Calgary -25 13 2 15%
Philadelphia -21 12 5 42%
Columbus -20 11 6 55%
Carolina -18 12 4 33%
Anaheim -17 11 7 64%

Even though the Flames have the most wins out of these five teams, they have the fewest number of actually convincing ones. They’re one of four teams without a shutout yet this season, alongside the Buffalo Sabres, Edmonton Oilers, and Winnipeg Jets: teams with goal differentials of -10, -7, and -9 respectively; teams that, despite getting scored on every single time, have still managed to win convincingly at parts throughout the season. Hell, the Jets lost a game 7-0 and their goal differential isn’t anywhere near as bad as others’.

Being a good three-on-three team has helped Calgary – although in actuality, even though they’ve won the most in overtime, with a 47.7% 3v3 CF, the Flames are actually the seventh worst possession team – but nobody wins a Stanley Cup playing three-on-three. 

It’s a gimmick, and one that’s helped the Flames get seven of their wins. But it’s not conducive to being a solid team.

Bad luck, bad bounces, and a complete collapse of goaltending has been responsible all season long for the Flames lagging so far behind when it comes to goal differential; despite all this, they still might make the playoffs anyway. But history doesn’t indicate they’ll actually have real, measured success this season – and it’ll be an area to focus on for the long term.

Get a lead. Learn to hold a lead. Don’t let teams back into games. And maybe then, we’ll start seeing a Flames team that looks like more of a threat.

But they certainly aren’t there yet.

  • @S_2_H

    Weird. What about the amazing Flames defense I heard so much about all summer long?

    Bad luck? Bad bounces? Really Ari? With a -25 GD I would suggest the Flames have had amazingly good luck to have 13 wins this year.

    • Avalain

      You hit the NAIL on the HEAD! Flames starting coming around when:

      T J Brodie returned to the lineup;

      and Ramo started playing consecutive games in net. Hartley had the silly notion that switching the goalie after a loss would produce a hot goalie…well, it really didn’t….all it created was losing streaks!

  • ChinookArchYYC

    Oh yeah, -25 on the SEASON!

    but, they were -24 after the first 11 games of the season. 2 WINS and 8 LOSSES and 1 SO Loss.

    After win against Nashville Flames are -24 on the season in goal differential. So they are 0 on goal differential since game 11.

    So, by my eye (and some simple number crunching} they have much improved since that disastrous October start.

    They are 12-6-1 since Game 11 of the season! Put that in your pipes and smoke it!

  • Avalain

    You touched on a good point, no one wins a Stanley Cup thru three on three play. We can love how Johnny Overtime comes thru, but that doesn’t get you past the first round even if get to the playoffs because the three on three isn’t played in the playoffs. If we can’t win in regulation, we shouldn’t be thinking about it as a win.