The Calgary Flames made a perplexing tweak in their lineup over the weekend.
After a close 4-2 loss to the Dallas Stars on Thursday night, powered by some offense generated off the stick of rookie blueliner Brett Kulak (and finished by some kid named “Johnny Gaudreau”), the Flames shuffled their defensive pairings. Then they lost 4-1 to the New York Rangers on Saturday night.
The results itself weren’t all that surprising when you take a look at historical performances from Flames’ defensive pairs.
Here are the top defensive pairings used by the Flames from 2007-2016 in terms of Relative Corsi percentage 5-on-5, with a minimum of 150 minutes played together. Data from our pals at Corsica Hockey.
|Deryk Engelland||Brett Kulak||+8.19|
|T.J. Brodie||Cory Sarich||+7.46|
|T.J. Brodie||Mark Giordano||+6.05|
|Adrian Aucoin||Dion Phaneuf||+5.08|
|Cory Sarich||Derek Smith||+4.59|
During their runs together, these pairings were better than the rest on their teams. Your eagle eyes probably noticed that two of these pairings are currently available to the Flames: Engelland/Kulak and Brodie/Giordano.
Let’s head to the other end of the spectrum…
Same parameters for the data, except the other end of a fairly long list of pairs:
|Deryk Engelland||Dennis Wideman||-11.20%|
|Adrian Aucoin||Jim Vandermeer||-10.36%|
|Jordan Leopold||Dion Phaneuf||-9.38%|
|T.J. Brodie||Deryk Engelland||-9.33%|
|Chris Butler||Kris Russell||-7.59%|
As you can see here, two really bad pairing options are available to the Flames right now, too. And both of them involve Engelland, who has the auspicious honour of appearing on both the best and worst pairings lists in the contexts that we’ve defined.
Giordano – Brodie
Jokipakka – Hamilton
Kulak – Engelland
Giordano – Wideman
Brodie – Engelland
Kulak – Hamilton
Let’s review briefly:
- The Flames had a set-up of pairings that included two of the best pairings performance-wise that they’ve had in the last decade. They also had Jokipakka/Hamilton, who were clunky but not historically terrible.
- In an effort to improve the power play, Glen Gulutzan swapped out Jokipakka for Wideman.
- As a consequence of swapping in Wideman, all three defensive pairings were broken up. In addition, Brodie was moved from his right side (where he historically seems to perform his best) to his left side and re-paired with Engelland, reuniting one of the worst pairings in recent memory in terms of performance.
Heading into a match-up with a very strong Rangers club, Gulutzan arguably took his five remaining defensemen and took them out of their comfort zones (the pairings they had been in for a bit) and out of the pairings that had historically the best performances and, therefore, the best chances for success.
The Flames did end up performing well on the power play and scored their first goal since Oct. 25 with the man advantage, but was it worth upending the apple cart at even strength? If Wideman had to be inserted, it probably would have made a bit more sense to put him on his weak side with Hamilton and give them sheltered minutes rather than dismantle pairings that had already demonstrably worked well together.