Halloween is still a week away but things have already gotten scary in Calgary.
The Flames entered the year with a lot of optimism, but instead the team has kicked off 2016-17 with an almost historically bad start. They have the worst combined special teams in the league, have given up the most goals and have surrendered the most high danger scoring chances against. They look like a middling AHL club that awoke to find themselves inexplicably inserted into the NHL and they have no idea how to compete.
The bad news is, the Flames’ schedule was incredibly soft to start they year, with lots of home games and lesser opponents. Things get much more difficult over the next few weeks, which means there’s a chance this grim spectacle isn’t the nadir of the season.
Now that’s scary.
— CoryS (@CSavidant) October 21, 2016
It’s everything. The execution is bad, with players losing puck battles, passing pucks into skates and skating headlong into traffic. But the systems look awful too, particularly when it comes to zone entry. The club only seems to have a couple of entry schemes, both of which are easily stifled by standing four guys across the blueline.
Calgary needs to get better strategies than “bump back to Gaudreau” and “soft dump in” to gain the zone. And when they finally do have possession, they can’t merely play a game of “rim the puck around the perimeter and get it back for a point shot.” That’s how fourth lines tend to manage offensive zone time, not special teams featuring the most talented guys on the squad.
— Darcy Hume (@realdarcyhume) October 21, 2016
At even strength, things start in the defensive zone with the defensemen transitioning from offense to defense. Right now, the Flames still seem stuck in the bad habit of the wingers (if not all three forwards) flying the zone and hanging around the center line or opposition blueline for a zone exit pass. This makes the Flames’ defenders lives very difficult and can often lead to icings, passes off skates or interceptions.
— Jack Han (@ml_han) October 15, 2016
On the PP, we’ve talked about the club’s limited repertoire of zone entry schemes. Arik Parnass, who was hired by the Colorado Avalanche this offseason, illustrated some of the more effective and creative zone entry strategies at his blog Special Team Project.
In this article, he talks about the effectiveness of the Capitals’ “single swing” zone entry tactic on the PP. In this one, he looks at the Islanders’ “drop pass loop”. He also talked about the importance of zone entries to the PP here, in his introduction to ZEFR (a new PP evaluation metric).
Evaluating these tactics is a bit beyond the scope of this article, but the point is – there are other options. I encourage anyone interested to check out the linked posts.
— Scott MacMahon (@Scott_MacMahon) October 21, 2016
Hard to say, but I don’t think so. Several the guys struggling a lot have played under numerous coaches, including Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, T.J. Brodie and Dennis Wideman. Whatever this contagion is, it has infected the entire team, young and veteran players alike.
— Jeff (@nhlflamesfan) October 21, 2016
— Colin (@DragonsDeck) October 21, 2016
It’s usually a bad idea to make a panic move from a position weakness. Remember the Dion Phaneuf trade?
That said, if this continues much longer the team will not only be out of the playoff running by mid-November, they’ll be solidly positioned as the worst club in the league. In a season where considerable improvement was expected, that is a huge disappointment and may inevitably lead to some kind of move.
The problem for the Flames is the entire team is underperforming, especially the most expensive players on the roster. That makes it especially difficult to do anything of note in the trade department, unless you want to get pennies to the dollar in return for one of your supposed difference makers.
I assume Glen Gulutzan is safe for this season given he just signed a three-year deal (and the team is still paying Bob Hartley), but… an entire club can’t play this poorly for an extended period of time without someone on the coaching staff paying the consequences.
— Floor pouf owner (@bradu40) October 21, 2016
I’m guessing Wideman will jump in and out of the lineup, at least while everyone is healthy. He will probably get 60+ games this year. And no, he won’t have any real value at the trade deadline. He’s older, slowing down considerably and has a scarlet letter attached to his name after running over a ref last year.
— Riley (@apollorising) October 21, 2016
I mentioned more than once leading up to the season that the period of lowered expectations was over for the Brad Treliving regime. With a new coaching staff, expensive young stars and a roster mostly of his making, the expectations have (rightly) been raised.
Beyond that, though, it’s jarring to see the club come out of the gate so poorly. It would be one thing if an element or two was bad, but the entire club from top to bottom has been abysmal through six games. The club’s stars are mostly gross liabilities right now. The special teams are spent in a dazed stupor or blind panic. The transition game is slow, disjointed and prone to surrendering giveaways and odd-man rushes against.
As a result, not only have the games been disappointing and unentertaining, it’s very difficult to point to any kind of positive factor or reason for optimism. The failures have been so comprehensive and so global thus far, it’s almost impossible to not be looking for the panic button.
— Sane Opinion (@sane_opinion) October 21, 2016
There’s really no filling that role this year given the team’s internal options and cap problems. All they can do is settle on a “good enough” solution for now.
That said, the issue is moot if Gaudreau and Monahan can’t figure things out. The pair of them can likely carry almost anyone on the RW if they are playing well, but right now anyone stuck on that line is going to suffer. Calgary’s putative “first line” has been dreadful through six games, constantly being outshot, out-chanced and outscored. It won’t matter who the winger is if Monahan and Gaudreau can’t find their games.
— бязтт (@bKrauss61) October 21, 2016
Both goalies have struggled to some degree, but I think we can to cut them slack for now. The skaters in front of them are lost and routinely surrendering high quality, grade-A chances.
According to Corsica Hockey, the Flames have given up the most scoring chances against in the league so far (56) and have the second worst scoring chance ratio at 34.88% (!!). And that’s just at 5on5.
— indifferent (@ChinookArchYYC) October 21, 2016
Here’s the problem: literally nothing is working well for the Flames right now. Aside from a few individual performances here and there (and the lone, first period against the Oilers where they fired 24 shots), the club has been abysmal across the board. They are being outplayed everywhere, and they are inept at everything.
The only solace is this level of play can’t possibly continue. We know guys like Gaudreau, Monahan, Giordano, Brodie, and Hamilton are much, much better players than what they’ve shown thus far. Even if the coaching is legitimately bad (which is difficult to assess right now), the Flames’ top players have to eventually start executing at a much higher level than they have so far.
The question now is: can they do that before it’s too late?