Did the Flames improve without Johnny Gaudreau?

It’s an exciting night in the city of Calgary. Not only do we have the first major snowfall of the year to correspond with the first weekend of December, but Calgary Flames sniper Johnny Gaudreau is returning to the lineup just shy of three weeks after suffering a broken finger.

In Gaudreau’s absence, a lot of attention has been paid to the fact that the Flames seem to have tidied up a lot of little things about their game. Several post-game press conferences have featured various members of the media asking Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan about the team’s newfound consistency and success. The club is 6-3-1 without Gaudreau in the lineup and 6-10-1 with him in it.

To gauge whether the Flames actually have improved in the absence of their best player, we’ve dug into the numbers. (To counter for the fact that the Flames have won more often and led more often, we’re using 5-on-5 score-adjusted numbers across the board. Stick-tap to Natural Stat Trick for their numbers!)

CORSI

Corsi is all shots directed at the net, regardless of whether they hit the net, were blocked, or missed entirely.

For Against Per 60
For
Per 60
Against
With Gaudreau 672.2 694.4 52.1 53.6
Without Gaudreau 438.0 433.8 54.2 53.7

At a percentage level, the Flames saw their Corsi tick up ever so slightly: from 49.3% with Gaudreau to 50.2% without him. On a per-game level, they produced a little bit more and their shot attempts against didn’t change very much.

FENWICK

Fenwick is all unblocked shots directed at the net (e.g., missed shots and shots on goal).

For Against Per 60
For
Per 60
Against
With Gaudreau 493.0 517.8 38.1 40.0
Without Gaudreau 321.7 335.9 39.8 41.6

The Fenwick numbers aren’t quite as rosy, with a fairly consistent uptick in unblocked shot attempts both for and against. This doesn’t really mean too much on its own. On a percentage basis, Fenwick For went from 48.8% to 48.9%.

SHOTS

Shots are pucks that hit the net that the goalie had to stop.

For Against Per 60
For
Per 60
Against
With Gaudreau 363.8 361.8 28.1 27.9
Without Gaudreau 231.2 231.2 28.6 28.7

Like the Fenwick number, there’s not much change here. On a percentage basis, Shots For went from 50.1% to 49.9%.

GOALS

For Against Per 60
For
Per 60
Against
With Gaudreau 25.2 32.1 1.95 2.48
Without Gaudreau 16.0 13.8 1.98 1.71

Our first big reduction is in the per-game goals against, with the opposition scoring roughly three-quarters of a goal fewer (on average) during the 10 games the Flames were without Gaudreau. A caution about a conclusion here, though: Chad Johnson started most of these games and so it’s difficult to point to this number alone as evidence of a team-wide improvement. On the other hand, the Flames are scoring about as much without Gaudreau as they did with him.

SCORING CHANCES

Scoring chances are shot attempts (Corsi events) from within the “home plate” area.

For Against Per 60
For
Per 60
Against
With Gaudreau 227.3 273.7 17.6 21.1
Without Gaudreau 142.9 146.5 17.7 18.1

This is an interesting reduction, as the Flames have cut down on their scoring chances against without impacting their scoring chances for at all. Considering their per-game Corsi Against didn’t change much, this suggests a structural change that kept opposition attackers to the outside – something that more or less corresponds with the vaunted “eye test.”

HIGH DANGER SCORING CHANCES

High danger scoring chances are shot attempts from within the lower part of the “home plate” area (e.g., from the low slot) along with rebound chances.

For Against Per 60
For
Per 60
Against
With Gaudreau 104.3 136.0 8.1 10.5
Without Gaudreau 67.3 73.4 8.3 9.1

The high danger chances against have also been reduced by a pretty big margin, and also without impacting their high danger chances for. Taken in tandem with the scoring chance numbers, this also suggests structural alterations (or more adherence to defensive zone structure) to avoid chances in the goal-mouth and a reduction in juicy rebounds. Some of that could be because Johnson is starting more often, but it’s likely also improved defensive zone play.

PERCENTAGES

S% HD
S%
Sv% HD
Sv%
PDO
With Gaudreau 7.4 9.3 91.4 79.0 98.8
Without Gaudreau 6.0 13.6 92.3 78.9 98.4

In terms of shooting: they’re seeing shots go in less often, but they’re doing a much better job at burying their shots in the vaunted “high rent” district around the net.

In terms of saves: we’re seeing a slight uptick in overall save percentage – likely due to a combination of the better defensive play and Johnson playing more often – but an unchanged high danger percentage.

SUM IT UP

Offensively, the Flames are producing roughly the same number of goals, pucks at the net in varying measures, scoring chances and high danger chances. They’re significantly better lately at burying high danger scoring chances.

Defensively, the Flames are allowing about the same amount of pucks at the net in varying measures, but they’ve reduced their scoring chances and high danger chances against… and that has likely led to their reduction in goals against per game.

In short? The numbers do seem to fit with the common perception that the Flames have been better without Gaudreau. They’ve definitely been better defensively and their offensive underlying numbers are largely unchanged in his absence.