Hockey writers are a lot like fans. We sit through the same games that fans do, though the majority of the time we don’t have the option to stop watching if the games get ugly. Midway through the Calgary Flames’ 5-0 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Monday night, a thought came into my head.
“It feels like the Flames have lost more one-sided games than they did last year.”
With that feeling gnawing at me, I dug into the numbers to see if the Flames have truly been out of games more often than they have in the past.
Scoring First (or Not)
Let’s start with something simple: are the Flames scoring first (and then trying to hold a lead) or are they getting scored on first (and then having to chase)?
Scored on first:
- 2016-17: 32 out of 57 games (56.1% of games)
- 2015-16: 36 out of 82 games (43.9% of games)
The perception that the Flames are chasing more often this year is actually correct, though the average time they’ve spent chasing at even strength per game is only up 36 seconds per game (to 17.1 minutes).
- 2016-17: 25 out of 57 games (43.9% of games)
- 2015-16: 46 out of 82 games (56.1% of games)
Looking at the time the Flames spent leading, it’s down quite a bit per game. The average even strength time the Flames spend leading this season is down two minutes and 18 seconds per game. On average, the Flames spent four more minutes trailing per game than leading at even strength. This is also a product of the Flames taking and drawing more penalties than they were last year, which shrinks their even strength time per game. But they are chasing more often at even strength than they did last year.
Never Trailing (or Leading)
What’s worse than getting scored on first? Never having a lead, which basically allows the other team to go into cruise control. Similarly, never trailing in a game is awesome because it allows your team to dictate the pace. How do the Flames look in this respect?
Never had a lead:
- 2016-17: 18 times (31.6% of all games) (56.3% of the games where the other team scored first)
- 2015-16: 26 times (31.7% of all games) (72.2% of the games where the other team scored first)
- 2016-17: 15 times (26.3% of all games) (60.0% of the games where they scored first)
- 2015-16: 20 times (24.4% of all games) (43.5% of the games where they scored first)
While the Flames are trailing more per game than they did last year, there’s some good news here: the games where the Flames never trail represent a slightly larger proportion of games than last year. The bad news? Unless trends change, there will be another eight games where the Flames never have a lead and spend the entire game tied or chasing.
Are the Flames falling completely out of games more often than they have in the past? Well, they’re losing completely one-sided games about as often as they were last season (when they finished sixth from last in the NHL’s standings). But when the Flames do give themselves an early lead, they seem to be better at protecting their lead and closing out games as well as battling back in games where they get scored on.
They’re not improving in every situation, but the improvements they’ve made are likely a big, big reason why they’re still in a playoff race rather than trying to figure out how nice Nolan Patrick would look in a red and black jersey.