Digging into the Flames’ penalty kill struggles

The Calgary Flames have special teams troubles. Their power play isn’t good. Their penalty kill is also not good. The Flames have allowed 16 goals, more than any National Hockey League team that’s not Chicago. In short: the penalty kill is one of the big reasons why the Flames are 5-8-1 through their first 14 games.

Let’s dive in to what’s going wrong on the penalty kill.

TEAM STATISTICS

  • Corsi Against / 60: 107.30 (6th last)
  • Fenwick Against / 60: 74.67 (17th last)
  • Shots Against / 60: 50.20 (21st last)
  • Goals Against / 60: 10.04 (3rd last)
  • Scoring Chances Against / 60: 42.40 (14th last)
  • High Danger Chances Against / 60: 14.43 (21st last)

The Flames are all over the map in terms of puck possession and shooting metrics. They’re good at suppressing shots and high danger chances. They’re middle of the pack in terms of Fenwick and scoring chances against. They’re quite bad in terms of allowing total shot attempts (Corsi) and goals.

The stats suggest it’s a goaltending problem, but a large chunk of the 15 goals against were products of deflections, screens and weird bounces, so it’s possible that the numbers are skewed a bit.

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

Player TOI/GP CA/60 FA/60 SA/60 GA/60 SCA/60 HDCA/60
Engelland 3:48 133.92 91.15 60.77 12.38 49.52 15.75
Giordano 3:32 127.06 82.29 52.03 9.68 49.61 13.31
Brodie 2:46 78.76 55.60 37.07 10.81 30.89 13.90
Backlund 2:28 112.34 81.23 57.03 10.37 48.39 22.47
Frolik 2:25 105.78 77.57 52.89 8.81 45.84 22.92
Stajan 2:10 120.33 76.93 47.34 11.84 43.40 15.78
Bouma 2:08 116.48 77.65 49.61 12.94 49.61 17.26
Wideman 1:55 97.83 78.26 62.61 15.65 54.78 31.30
Brouwer 1:55 99.37 70.01 47.43 11.29 38.39 2.26
Hamilton 1:33 71.67 55.13 35.83 2.76 30.32 8.27
Grossmann 1:04 92.31 73.85 36.92 0.0 18.46 0.0

As we saw with the team-wide numbers, there’s a ton of noise here and different players look bad from different angles. Bad at Corsi and Fenwick? Engelland, Giordano and Stajan. Bad at shots against? Wideman, Engelland and Backlund. Bad at goals against? Wideman, Bouma & Engelland. Bad at scoring chances? Wideman, Bouma, Giordano and Engelland. Bad at high danger chances? Wideman, Backlund and Frolik.

The level of data noise makes me think that the Flames are bad at a lot of different things.

THEY SAID IT

Speaking after Wednesday’s practice at the Scotiabank Saddledome, Gulutzan gave his power play a bit of slack due to the slow starts of Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, but gave no quarter to the penalty kill.

“Our penalty kill should’ve been up to speed,” said Gulutzan. “I’ll still stay with
that, and we had a long meeting about that today, and I think we made
some strides. But that’s the one area where I think we need to
have… obviously, we talk about special teams enough but the penalty
kill is one area I’ve been really unhappy with.”

Gulutzan identified several “little things” he would like to see improved by the penalty killing group.

“We’re way overplaying the high tip guy, the middle guy on the
power play,” said Gulutzan. “We’re leaving other things exposed. We need to have a
better, even on our PK faceoffs… it’s not just about winning the
faceoff, we need to win a few more but we need to have a plan if we’re
losing it of how we’re going to pressure and giving them less time and
space.”

Flames winger Troy Brouwer noted the penalty kill scheme they use focuses on the middle of the ice, aiming to minimize quality scoring chances. The challenges they’ve been facing involve teams getting into the interior of the Flames zone.

“We don’t mind giving them the perimeter,” said Brouwer. “If they’re on the perimeter, it
means they’re not getting many opportunities. The problem is when we
let them get on the interior of our box. Whether it’s seam plays,
whether it’s bounces, guys getting out of position, that’s what’s
killing us right now. We’re not able to clear the zone fluently, when we
have the puck on our stick, and as a result we’re spending way too long
in our zone when we should be up on the forecheck.”

Michael Frolik, another penalty kill stalwart, provided a bit of context regarding the challenges the Flames have had clearing their zone while a man down.

“I think it’s more about the close support there and short
little passes,” said Frolik. “We always try to maybe kill the puck when
we don’t have the puck on our stick, when it’s on their stick. I think
if you’re not sure if you can clear it the whole way, eat it maybe and
wait for help to come.”

The head coach had a rather simple assessment of what he wants to see change in his team’s penalty kill in a broader sense, noting he’d shown a ton of video to his team to hammer home his points.

“My
biggest thing with our penalty kill is there’s a sense of panic in it,” said Gulutzan.
“You can’t have a sense of panic. You have to know your responsibility,
you have to stay tight, and you can’t just take wild whacks at the puck
to clear them. You have to clear them together, four guys, and that’s
what Fros is probably alluding to. There has to be a sense of calm on
the [penalty kill] that you know where your outs are, and it might take
two little passes to get it down the ice rather than one heroic attempt
to get it down the ice.”

  • Neddd

    Not sure why the coaches are getting so much blame for the poor special teams. The numbers haven’t really changed that much from last season.

    Last year’s penalty kill was 75.5% and 30th in the league. This year’s is very similar at 72.4% and 29th in the league.

    Granted the power play thus far is exceptionally low and should improve but it wasn’t exactly stellar last year either (22nd in the league).

    Since the coaching staff have been changed, maybe its now time to consider the possibility that the players are the issue……

  • dontcryWOLF88

    I think Ned makes a valid point. The special team numbers didnt just get bad this year.

    If I cant read when I leave grade 2, then is it fair to blame my grade 3 teacher for this when I get there?

    The core of the group built up a lot of bad habits on special teams with Hartley…or maybe on their own? It takes time to re-learn skills once they’ve turned into impulse.

    Nobody likes to hear that it might be the players, cause those issues are more difficult to fix, but it’s probably the players for this. It’ll come around though, I trust.