3 observations from the Flames road trip


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The Calgary Flames just completed their longest road trip of the season, playing six games in nine nights in the Eastern Conference. With a record of 3-2-1, the Flames earned seven of a possible 12 points and return home one game closer to the .500 mark than when they left. 

Three things jumped out at me during Calgary’s excursion, two negative and one positive.

Prior to the trip, I ballparked seven points as the minimum for this trip to be considered a success. By that gauge, then, I guess I have to declare the last six game stretch at least somewhat successful. Unfortunately, my main takeaway from this most recent trip isn’t a positive one which is where we’ll start. Remember, these are just my three biggest observations, which means things like the play of Chad Johnson and the 3M line (both positive) aren’t included.

A disturbing trend

As the Flames return home, they do so riding a downward trend in their play. After starting the trip with an impressive 3-2 victory in Detroit, Calgary’s game slipped dramatically for the following five games. As a whole, the Flames spent way too much time defending on the road and relied heavily on the aforementioned Johnson far too often.

The backwards trend is actually a little surprising, or at the very least disappointing. Prior to these last five games, the Flames looked like maybe they were turning a corner. Calgary had played three straight really solid games against Arizona, Chicago, and then Detroit and were, while winning twice, somewhat unfortunate not to have taken all three.

But after a brutal outing in Buffalo, the Flames weren’t able to get things back on track in their overall game the rest of the trip. From a possession standpoint, they finished underwater in three of six games, but more disturbing was their work prior to the third period. Calgary’s final possession numbers and their totals after two periods are compiled below. All stats in this piece come courtesy of hockeystats.ca.

So while the Flames finished on the right side of the possession ledger three times on the trip, they had to use score effects twice to push them over the top. To see them in the red after two periods in their last five games is certainly an alarming trend that needs to stop soon.

Taking a look at scoring chances doesn’t paint a rosier picture. In fact, depending on how you look at things, it might make things worse. Calgary was out-chanced in all six of their games on the road and only finished ahead in the even strength count on Monday night in New York thanks to a solid third period.

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The fact the Flames won two of their final five games and took points in three of them is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, Calgary is desperate for points and getting them in any fashion is crucial. On the flip side, continuing to lose the possession and scoring chance battle is going to catch up to them in a big way sooner rather than later.

The good news is the three games they played prior to Buffalo. As I mentioned above, Calgary’s work in three straight games against the Coyotes, Blackhawks, and Red Wings was positive, so we know they’re capable of it. About to enter the month of December, the Flames need to figure out how to make games like those the norm.

Sean Monahan

Monahan’s play has been a huge topic all season long, but it seemed to really come to a head over the last six games. Despite scoring a huge third period goal to help salvage a point on Monday night, Monahan was ineffective at best and detrimental at worst for a large portion of the trip.

From a counting perspective, Monahan’s goal in Brooklyn was the only point he recorded on the road and was just his third point over a larger 10 game portion. Monahan isn’t scoring right now and he’s not getting the job done in other areas, either. Taking a look at the six games he played on the road paints a pretty clear picture of Monahan’s struggles.

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Unfortunately, what you see above is a microcosm of Monahan’s season as a whole. Just twice on the road trip Monahan finished with a possession rate higher than his offensive zone start ratio. To contrast, Mikael Backlund and Matt Stajan outperformed their zone starts in five of the six games on the trip. To make matters worse, Monahan’s poor decision making has lead to far too many scoring chances and goals against.

I don’t know what’s going on with Monahan. He has completely fallen off a cliff this season and he’s been one of the team’s least effective forwards. This would be concerning even without a recent big money contract extension, but his new $44.625 million deal makes it all the more alarming. Let’s hope Monahan’s strong third period on Monday resulting in an important goal is a sign of things to come.

The penalty kill

Now to the positive stuff! Yes, that’s correct, I’m linking Calgary’s penalty kill and the word “positive” in the same sentence and I’m doing it with a straight face. The Flames actually made some strides in this area on this most recent road trip and hopefully it’s a sign of things to come.

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Obviously Calgary was shelled by the Sabres on the PK last Monday night, but if you remove that game and its unfortunate 1:41 sequence, the numbers look really good. Minus the forgettable effort in Buffalo, the Flames killed off 20 of 21 penalties on the road for a 95.2% success rate. 

Obviously, you can’t totally eliminate what happened against the Sabres; as such, I present to you their 94.7% success rate in the four games since that night. To make their work look more impressive, Calgary was able to silence the league’s two top powerplays in Columbus and Philadelphia while adding to the woes of teams like New York and Detroit.

From a visual standpoint, the Flames look to be making things far more difficult on opposing powerplay units, specifically on their zone entry. By my eye, Calgary has done a nice job of pressuring the opposing puck carrier at the defensive blueline and forcing quick decisions.

Down low, the Flames also seem far more instinctive when finding an outlet pass when an automatic clear isn’t there. As such, it’s made it more difficult for opposing defencemen to hold the line on a desperate clearing attempt. Instead, Calgary has bought themselves an extra second or two which helps ensure a clean clear and a line change.

Mike Fail has done a much better job of meticulously tracking the Flames on the PK, but at least by my eye in real time, they look far more effective. Certainly the numbers would suggest Calgary’s kill is coming along which is a positive regardless. At 76.8% through 25 games, it’s going to take a while for the Flames to dig out of their statistical hole, but it looks to be heading in the right direction.

  • dontcryWOLF88

    I do beleive as well that if the Flames can snag a good RW to play with Monahan and Johnny you will see both those guys numbers go right back up, or higher. Widemans $5.5m AAV should buy someone useful there.

    • Kevin R

      No fckg sh!!ght!

      Let’s not make the same mistake like we did with Hull & St Louis & watch this kid nail 50 goals with another team.

      Wish this MSM horse crap about Nylander straight up for Hamilton will just go away!!! That would be getting into Dougie Risebrough/Daryl Sutter country for worse trades with the Maple Leafs.

      • BlueMoonNigel

        On paper Hull was dealt to the Blues for Ramage but do you recall who the Blues traded to Calgary for a song a few months later?

        Flames don’t have Gilmour, no Stanley Cup. Ramage too was a very useful piece in the ’89 playoffs as well as they were without Suter.

        Hull for Ramage, a steal for the Blues.

        Hull for Gilmour, who wins? I would take Gilmour over Hull in a month of Sundays because he was more complete player. The only downside of the Gilmour to Calgary deal was that Killer never stayed here very long, a point that still makes me seethe at Riser.

  • CalgaryBornandRaised

    I never truly believed all those reports that said Bennett would eventually be our number one centre, but after seeing Monahan play this season i firmly believe it.

    He has real trouble against the top lines of the other teams and seems to make some questionable decisions with the puck in the offensive zone. I know its a tough ask on a guy to play the top lines every night but guess what, that’s what 6 million a year is required of you

  • OKG

    People always criticized the Hartley Stretch but because it made Monahan into a winger-that-takes-faceoffs instead of a centre, it gave Monahan individual success he is unlikely to replicate at centre in a structured system.

    • The Last Big Bear

      Or we could put him with two top line wingers, and let him stand in the slot and shovel in 35 goals.

      The kid has a nose for the net. There’s a lot you can do with that.

      • OKG

        Or we could put him with a top line winger(Tkachuk/Gaudreau), a top 2 line centre (Backlund/Bennett/Jankowski), and let him stand in the slot and shovel in 35 goals without asking him to do things outside of his comfort level like playing centre properly. He could even take O-zone draws.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Sean Monahan has always had poor underlying numbers.

    Right from day 1 in the NHL his goal scoring has been out of proportion to his advanced stats and his performance by the eyeball test.

    Now it’s not.

    A flashing goal lamp can forgive a lot of sins, and now that the lamp isn’t lighting for him, he’s getting a lot of criticism for playing fairly similarly to how he’s always played.

    His scoring will come back. He’ll finish the year handily over 20 goals, and go on to 30+ goal seasons in the future. And he’ll do it all while losing board battles, not using his size, having average-at-best straight line speed, posting underwhelming advanced stats, and not getting many assists.

    Just like he’s done through his entire extremely successful NHL career so far.

  • redwhiteblack

    The teams they played on the road are struggling to some degree themselves. Had they faced tougher opposition they would not have come back with 7 points. The negatives would have been more apparent, more ugly.

    My hope is that individual point productions trend up, they all get on a bit of a roll and thus get a few nice wins. Work towards a better culture for next year when some bad contracts go away. There is that at least.

    • BlueMoonNigel

      What a bunch of crap!

      You do know the Flames do not get to pick and choose their opponents?

      Team comes back with 7/12 points from its longest road trip of the season and you still whine and moan about it.

      The Flames were a bottom 5 team last season, yet you are holding them to the standard of an elite club. Why?

      By my count, if the Flames played an entire season and had the same point percentage as they did on this road trip, they would finish with a minimum of 95 points, which would probably have them in the playoffs.

  • Kensington

    Monahans head does not seem in the game, like something is bothering him mentally? Wow if he played like this last year before the big contract he probably wouldn’t have been offered one.