FN Mailbag – November 21, 2016

Mailbag

The club has dug themselves a pretty deep hole and it’s going to be very difficult to dig themselves out again this year, especially with Johnny Gaudreau laid up with a broke finger. Things can’t really get much more bleak, can they? 

However, there are rays of sunshine starting to poke through the clouds. The Flames are have begun to push the play at even strength, the goaltending has stabilized, the PP doesn’t look totally lost and some of the stars are actually looking like themselves again.

On top of all that, the Pacific is terrible this year. Usually it would require a 92-95 point pace to make the playoffs in the West, but thanks to their lousy division, the Flames may only have to stretch to about 85 points to make the dance.

“Things are always darkest before the dawn,” as they say. Maybe there’s enough time left to turn this ship around.

Today we talk about who the starter is, the Flames’ luck so far and whether we can chart their apparent improvement or not.

To date, Chad Johnson has made the better case to be the Flames’ starter, but we also have years of data suggesting that Brian Elliott is the better puck stopper. Like shooters, goalies go through peaks and valleys every so often, but tend to level out around their true talent over the long run. I expect Johnson will falter at some point and Elliott will reclaim the starter’s role permanently.

A win right now is more practically useful given the club’s desperate need for points of course, but in terms of psychology/progression, etc. I think just stringing together fundamentally strong games is the most important, win or lose.

The Flames can only control the quality of their play. The recent Chicago loss is an example of a good performance not being rewarded due to bounces/circumstances more than anything else. If the club continues to play like they have against Arizona and the Blackhawks, the wins will start to come.

To some degree, yes. Right now they sport the sixth lowest PDO (combination of SH% and SV% at ES) in the NHL at 97.83. As we know, PDO tends to regress towards the league mean of 100 over time, so we should expect things to improve as a matter of course. 

Even if you grant that the Flames’ play through the first portion of the season has been bad enough to warrant a terrible PDO, Corsica Hockey actually has an expected PDO measure that theoretically corrects for shot quality and such. The Flames’ xPDO right now is 99.28, nearly three points higher than their actual measure.

So on top of a lot of bad play, the club has had to put up with bad bounces, too.

Thankfully, yes. 

Let’s start with even strength play. 

We can look at the club’s three-game rolling average in terms of all shot attempts for and against as well as expected goal ratio. First CF% (shot attempts):

CFRA

The Flames bottomed out terribly by this measure around the end of October and have been gradually gaining ground since. 

Next, expected goals (XGF%): 

XGRA

The Flames fell down an even deeper well in terms of xGF, but again have begun to dig upwards in similar fashion to CF% (not coincidentally).

And now for the special teams. First, the PP, which we will grade in terms of shot attempts for per 60 minutes of ice (CF60):

PPCF

Unfortunately this graph isn’t as dramatic because of the default scale on the Y-axis. 

However, upon inspecting the numbers up close, I can tell you the Flames started the year generating around 60-70 shot attempts per hour with the man advantage, before bottoming out around the start of November at just 57.5. 

Since then the team’s attempts have climbed up north of 100 to recently settle in around 92/60. That is a much healthier shot rate and will eventually lead to better outcomes if they can keep it up.  

Let’s finish with the PK. This time we’ll judge it by all shot attempts against per 60 minutes (CA60):

PKCA

Again, the Y-axis scale sucks, so the Flames’ drastic improvement is mostly hidden.

Calgary started the year yielding around 100 shot attempts against per hour. That peaked at an abysmal 126/60 at the end of October, before starting a descent to a much more encouraging rate of around 82/60, which is where they end up at the end of the graphic.

Calgary was bad – awful – at everything around the end of October and have gradually been pulling up their socks ever since. There’s no guarantee they won’t plummet into another valley some time soon, but at least there’s some very real signs of improvement for now.

  • Baudrillard

    I appreciate the effort that goes into the analysis, but quickly Googling how to change the axis scale in Excel would have solved your problem very easily.

  • aflame13

    Despite this team’s terrible mistakes early in the season that cost them games, they’ve been fairly consistently out-chancing opponents or at least keeping up. They may end up being one of the 4-6 teams a year that misses the playoffs with a top 16 corsi, but it’s looking pretty encouraging at this point.

  • MWflames

    Maybe a bit premature, but assuming the flames right this ship and are competing for a playoff spot… Whats the appetite to being Iggy back at the TDL?

    Could be a decent 3rd line RW, and some scoring prowess on the PP.

    Our wings are weak as is…. Obviously, this is assuming the cost is reasonably affordable.

  • Jakethesnail

    Off topic but… Listening to Oilers now and they are talking about McDavid and stars getting cheap shots. What would you rather have a guy like Brouwer take a game or two suspension or Gaudreau out for 2 months with a slash like he took?

    • redricardo

      I don’t follow you. How does Brouwer getting suspended for two games keep Gaudreau from getting injured?

      Or are you falling back on the old “Nuclear Deterrent/Players police themselves” argument, which has been proven to not be real.

      Good players draw extra attention. It’s the way of the world.

      • Jakethesnail

        Gaudreau was slashed about 4 times before the one that finally broke his finger. If someone would have smacked the first guy with a dirty elbow in the lips chances are the next three slashes would not have happened.
        You follow me now?

        • redricardo

          You’re saying that a player slashes Gaudreau. So we wallop him and take penalties and a 2 game suspension. So then the other team says “Well… I guess we can’t slash him anymore. Because if we do they’ll have more players kicked out of the game for being goons and we’ll score more powerplay goals… so I guess we better just let Gaudreau do whatever he wants, because the other team has grit”

          I follow what you’re saying, but I disagree with you wholeheartedly.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    With the Flames improvement and the coincidental (and predictable) decline of the Oilers, the FN and ON trolls have left and allowed for an adult conversation in the comment section.

    I’ll take it while it lasts.

  • ssamze

    The graphs confirm with my eye test where I found the Flames early playing pretty well. When Flames started the season they seemed to have a good system and abide to it. Especially had a good zone exit system. But then everything fell off in late October. Nothing worked. Now they play like the beginning of the season.

    • Baalzamon

      Not quite the same. In early october they had the puck a lot, but they were also bleeding scoring chances against (without generating chances for). They’ve gotten slightly better at generating chances for, and much better preventing the chances against.