Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The Flames take too many penalties in their own zone

Calgary Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan was pissed after the team’s 2-1 loss to Carolina on Thursday night. And it’d be one thing if he were all emotional and ranting and raving. But as anybody who’s ever gotten a really thorough scolding from a disappointed parent can tell you, the worst scoldings are calm, collected and brutally tactical.

Well, Gulutzan was calm and brutal following the game while assessing what was going wrong with the team this season.

“It feels like to me it’s the same guys taking penalties, the same types of penalties, and those guys are gonna dress but unfortunately they’re going to lose some of their prime real estate ice time because we’ll just clean it up with the guys that can control themselves.”

Let’s talk a dive down into who’s taking penalties.

Penalties by player

Focusing just on penalties that result in power plays – ignoring fights and coincidental minors – here are the individuals that have put the Flames on the penalty kill the most often, and the types the penalties they’ve taken:

  • Sam Bennett: 6 (tripping, 2x hooking, 3x slashing)
  • Matthew Tkachuk: 6 (holding, holding the stick, 2x roughing, 2x goalie interference)
  • Mikael Backlund: 4 (cross-checking, hooking, 2x high-sticking)
  • Dougie Hamilton: 3 (hooking, 2x slashing)
  • Michael Stone: 3 (holding, 2x hooking)
  • Mark Giordano: 2 (interference, tripping)
  • Troy Brouwer: 1 (hooking)
  • Matt Stajan: 1 (holding)
  • Sean Monahan: 1 (hooking)
  • Mike Smith: 1 (interference)
  • Jaromir Jagr: 1 (hooking)
  • Freddie Hamilton: 1 (cross-checking)
  • Johnny Gaudreau: 1 (hand on puck)
  • T.J. Brodie: 1 (slashing)
  • Matt Bartkowski: 1 (holding)
  • Travis Hamonic: 1 (tripping)

Players that took penalties resulting in goals against on the ensuing power play were Bennett, Jagr and Tkachuk twice.

Gulutzan spoke again after practice on Friday, explaining his “bank account” theory in terms of players drawing more penalties than they take (and thereby earning a bit of lee-way from their coach):

The players with a positive “bank balance” (penalty differential) are Gaudreau, Frolik, Tkachuk, Glass and Brouwer. Consequently, Frolik, Gaudreau, Monahan, Glass and Brouwer have all also drawn penalties that resulted in power play goals.

Penalties by type and zone

Tell me if this sounds familiar: the opponents skate the puck into the Flames zone and take a shot, but don’t score. The Flames collect the puck and try to pass it out of the zone, but it’s intercepted and they start running around in their own end in a frantic effort to collect the puck, clear the zone and get fresh skaters on. In all their frantic play, they take a penalty from chasing – hooking, tripping, slashing or holding, what I would term “crimes of laziness.”

It’s happened a lot this season. After just seven games, the Flames have given the opposition 34 power play opportunities – 21 of those infractions were committed in their own zone, an average of three per game.

Many of the other penalties were what I would call “crimes of passion,” where players are engaged but go a bit overboard. Those are things like interference, cross-checking, roughing or goalie interference. They’re the penalties where you go, “Well, at least they’re doing something.” The Flames have taken a decent amount of these, primarily in the offensive zone.

If you look at the types of penalties taken by the players who are spending the most time in the box, Tkachuk’s seem to be primarily crimes of passion while Bennett’s seem to be a lot more skewed towards him chasing the game. Considering Tkachuk has drawn a heck of a lot more penalties than Bennett has, it may speak to one being more engaged in the guts of the game than Bennett has been.

Regardless, a simple solution for the Flames taking so many penalties is tidying up their zone exits. Cleaner zone exits mean less time running around in their own end and fewer penalties taken while trying to catch up to their opponents in the defensive zone. At this point, the individual-level penalty information is just a lot of noise.

      • Carl the tooth

        One way to clean it up is play better . If your cycling and have possession in offfencive zone,your drawing penalties, if your playing defence in your own zone all the time your gonna take more penalties. Last year when Flames would forechecking hard and the team would hemp teams in it was a thing of beauty and they could dominate any team . But I don’t see that hard fast forechecking. Jankowski scored again last night !!! It’s starting to really make me wonder why he is not on a plane right now . They need to get Bennett going ,put him on the wing for a game or two with Backlund and Frolik ,

        • Kevin R

          Bang on Carl! I think they bring him in & move Benny to wing on that 3rd line. We have to get some scoring from that line, something has to give offensively. Heck, who knows, maybe Janko & Bennett form an incredible chemistry together & could be the foundation of a new top line. Right, s!!! happens.

  • freethe flames

    Until the Flames clean up the needless penalties of passion and their turnovers trying to leave their zone that result in bad penalties this team will continue to struggle with taking to many bad penalties. The solution is change the line up; the only problem is that many of the guys are not the answer. I would rather see young guys making mistakes than vets doing the same old thing. Time to rethink Bennett as a center; let him play on the wing where his energy can be better used and the only way for this to happen is to bring Janko up. As I said on another thread; watching Janko here in preseason and in the Heat highlights he seems so calm with the puck and Bennett seems so frantic with it.

  • Trevy

    Penalties are the result of a lack of hard work and structure. What I noticed the most against Carolina is they were sloppy, disorganized and slow. They played like it was a preseason game where Carolina made crisp passes and were always able to break out if there own zone. The Flames started to get flustered early and if not for Smith, this game would of been a blow out. That’s when the penalties start. If they’re on top of their game from the start and are skating,creating scoring chances and clearing out of their zone quicker, they take less penalties. I’m still not convinced GG’s system is sinking in nor the right one for this team. They should be more cohesive as a team by now and its starting to look like the beginning of last season again

  • TurkeyLips

    Nice article. Gifting 34 powerplays after 7 games is astoundingly poor discipline.

    Bennett with 6 gifted infractions and 0 goals alongside 0 assists? That’s nonsensical and deserving of the bench. Worried about that guy’s future with this club…

    Jankowski is without a doubt a better player at least at center and that’s quite concerning. Lazar is a more appropriate 4th line center pivot.

    It seems Bennett’s only future on this team is as a winger who can control his untoward antics on the ice. Else he gets put on the trade block.

    This is coming from a fan that owns a #93 Flames jeresey. Sincerely hope Bennett can turn it around this season.

    • freethe flames

      While I like Janko and believe he can be better at center it is still not “without a doubt” that he is better than Bennett at center. Until he is given an opportunity we will not know. But yes Bennett either needs to be moved to the wing or benched and eat some popcorn. Unfortunately it does not go with GG’s preseason prediction of Bennett breaking out this season. It still could happen but is more likely on the wing than at center.

  • The GREAT WW

    “The Flames collect the puck and try to pass it out of the zone, but it’s intercepted and they start running around in their own end in a frantic effort to collect the puck”

    You have just perfectly described GG’s system…..!


    • Trevy

      I have to agree…at times it almost seems like kids playing soccer where 3 of them on the same team chase around after the one kid on the opposite team with the ball. On top of this, GG admits to still bectrying to figure out his lines. Really!? Top six seems set, but bottom six is a circus show and I believe that’s part of Bennett’s problems yet again this season. Waive Hamilton, sit Stajan, bring up Janko and please put in Kulak for at least a few games to see what he can do! Can’t be worse than Barko

    • BringtheFire 2.0

      One thing I’ve learner about hockey is that if a coach doesn’t go 10-0 to star the season, some jack@ss is calling for the coaches head.

      I’d like to see us with the ice time to execute the systems, but we can’t because we’re always on the kill.

      This is individual mistakes. There’s not enough evidence of a system to condemn said system.

      But, you are Walter, so it’s; “Make the same comment I did last time and then ask questions later, if at all.”

      • Off the wall

        Great post BTF.
        We are 7 games in and of course we’re going to have some adjustments to make. You’re right, we haven’t seen the Flames execute their game because of poor decisions by individuals.

        WW has an old phonograph that’s needle is stuck in the same groove. He can’t help it, he loves repetition.

        • Cheeky

          Let’s look at some facts that may be influencing some bench decisions: GGs highest level of playing was a couple sniffs in IHL but mostly WCHL, Cameron played 3 seasons (168 games) in a minimal role in NHL. Jerrad got 5 games in NHL but was a career AHLer. Neither have had success coaching in NHL (just making playoffs doesn’t count). GG was ok coaching in AHL (2 seasons) but mainly successful at ECHL level. Cameron was only successful at OHL level (not so much in AHL) and Jerrad was always an AHL assistant. Gelinas had a very long and successful career as player yet is relegated to pressbox duties during games.

          I don’t bemoan lack of experience (interesting that GG with so little doesn’t support players similar) but if you don’t have it perhaps you need to surround yourself with it. As head coach GG should have someone with successful experience beside him (we know there were plenty of options when he hired Cameron). Perhaps they can’t relate to the NHL players (remember they all voted Gelinas to stay) or see things changing on ice as a player would. Perhaps the players don’t give them respect or listen due to this, I’m reaching here yes but…

          BT hires GG as he was new to his role and knew someone with experience may not respect or listen to him. Same went with GG and his staff. I’m reaching yes but there is a reason Bart keeps playing against all reality and we get out coached and out played…

  • Skylardog

    34 penalties on that list – only 2 are roughing. There are 3 cross checking penalties, the lazy mans roughing penalty. 2 are goalie interference, at least going to the net and being physical. 4 of those are Tkachuks.

    My point? Almost none of this is from aggression. There are no boarding, charging, or elbowing penalties. We are playing weak, lazy, and are chasing.

  • oddclod

    Bennett is a Dan Cleary type with a penchant for delivering gritty useful performances in the playoffs. The flames have no clue how to utilize him. Thus are a detriment to developing his upside to becoming a Doug Gilmour. This is a game of pairs…. Monohan / Gaudreau, Frolik / Backlund… Bennett / ______. Good job Flames. YOU are ruining Bennett. He will probably be a great player elsewhere cause he’s a pitbull. He won’t let them destroy his career via mismanagement. He’ll be around for a long time. I just hope they smarten up and give him Tkachuck AND or Jankowski. So he can feel. Like a 4th overall pick. Morons.

    • Skylardog

      SO true. And they keep pairing him with Steeg and they have almost no chemistry. The problem is who, and they are unwilling to put him with Tkachuk. He had chemistry with Gaudreau against Winnipeg in the last half, but won’t go back to that. Winn was also Gaudreau’s best game I might add.

      • Kevin R

        Unfortunately we have a lot of expectation & that rolls down to coach. The coach then makes decisions on what he thinks will get him wins, not what would be in the best interest long term for the team or player. Human nature & nature of the beast that these coaches have shelf lives. Right now, he won’t break up the 3M line, even though there is a chance, by next year there may be no 3M line to put together. Versteeg is a great 4th liner who can move up in case of injuries & even put a little time on the 2nd PP but to ram him down your 4th over all & highest pick in franchise history is head shaking to say the least. I like having Hamonic, but if we could have had Stone this cheap & he played ok with Brodie last year, I think I would have thought seriously about using those picks to get a high end winger for Bennett.

    • The Sultan

      I’d say that’s a tad bit on the harsh side, and Bennett not living up to his potential could be because the Flames have mismanaged him, but it could also be for a variety of other reasons.

      Bennett is fast and gritty, likes to play with an edge and has always shown a penchant for taking penalties dating back to his junior career. So that’s always been there. He’s also not that big of a guy, as in, despite the NHL shifting to speed over size, a lot of your top centers in this league have both. Learning curve.

      Some picks just don’t pan out. There is such a thing as first round busts. Sam Reinhart someone mentioned earlier. Nail Yakupov. Not saying these players will never live up to their potential, sometimes they just need time.

      And, sometimes, they need to be moved to a different team, a new environment. But I think it’s too early to declare Bennett a bust yet. He needs to be benched like Gaudreau was in his first full season with the Flames, take the game in from a different perspective, see how much time and room he actually has out there for himself. Not to mention Bennett is still only 21, and while many (including myself) are clamouring for Jankowski to be brought up, Jankowski is two years older and has a full four years of NCAA hockey under his belt honing his craft, playing against men. I know they’re different types of players but Jankowski is the bigger of the two and will have an easier time transitioning his game into the NHL.

    • BringtheFire 2.0

      “…to becoming a Doug Gilmour.”

      In the immortal words of 50 Cent…


      And it’s great seeing the fourth season of; “It’s not Bennett it’s everything around him” .

      Why aren’t we saying that about Brouwer, another; “Playoff Guy” ?

  • Off the wall

    I hate losing. I love winning.
    Don’t we all? But losing because of lack of effort is what bothers me most.

    Our Flames have played two games with decent effort. We won those deservedly. The other two games we won,we were lucky that :
    1. Mike Smith was our best player
    2. The other teams didn’t capitalize on their special teams.

    Last season we were 19 wins, 5 loses when we won the special teams battle. In other words, we had more PP time than the opposition.
    Our record last season when we lost out on special teams?
    Lost 13, won 5

    I can understand GG’s frustration with our lack of discipline.

    It seems this season a lot of the outcome of games will be decided by special teams. Referees are eager to blow the whistle on virtually every offence a team makes. The only way to compete is to be smarter and play structured and disciplined.

    I really liked our preseason game against the Jets. To me that was a well played and disciplined game. It had all the elements of a great hockey game to enjoy. Both clubs played well. It was up and down the ice, fast and executed. Either team could have won that game and even if it were the Jets, I wouldn’t have been disappointed, because I loved the effort that went into it.

    That’s more important to me then anything. Effort!

    If the effort is there, the wins will take care of themselves and I love winning.

  • johnny4prez

    Trading Bennett would suck, even though hes been nothing less than terrible for us, you know he would just light it up for any other team and make us look like chumps