It would appear as though the goals have finally arrived.
R E G R E S S I O N
I’m really sorry to keep using that word but it’s just really applicable here. Let me explain.
Heading into this game, the Flames were fifth in the NHL in 5v5 CF/60, but 21st in GF/60. They were also 16th in CA/60, but fourth in GA/60. (Now, they’re sixth, 17th, 16th, and third, so the offensive gap is closing while they appear to still be playing above their heads in the defensive department.)
In other words: the Flames have been really good at generating shot attempts, but for whatever reason, they just plain haven’t been translating into goals. Every indication was that they should be at some point, that the Flames were doing too good a job at bringing the puck to the opposition’s net for it to not start going in.
Well, they now have 13 goals in their past two games, so it looks like the tide is turning. They’ve jumped up to 2.88 goals per game – tied for 16th in the NHL, which is much better than the 29th, 30th spot they were hanging out around back when the homestand started.
That’s the benefit of corsi. It’s a predictive stat, used to roughly estimate what a team may be doing in the future based on past results. Without it, you would look at the Flames’ paltry goals earlier in the season and stress out that their lines weren’t doing anything. With it, you could tell that in all likelihood, the goals were going to come, even if the team didn’t do anything all that different. It’s not a guarantee – just because the stat says they should be scoring more doesn’t mean they will be – but it is an indicator that there was good reason to believe the puck would start going in the net. Lo and behold. (It also helps that they did do something, i.e., get a healthy Jaromir Jagr back and place him on a line with Sam Bennett and Mark Jankowski. Both are important!)
On the other end of the ice, the Flames may be playing a bit above their level. They’re about middle of the pack when it comes to giving up shot attempts (though don’t let the ranking fool you; they’re five back of the top CA/60 team, and seven up on the worst one, so they’re closer to being better at this than not), but they’re one of the best teams at not giving up even strength goals.
They’ve started allowing more goals as of late, though. Don’t be surprised if that falls out from under them as the season goes on, regardless of Mike Smith’s health (though that, of course, may play a big factor as well, especially with the longest road trip of the season coming up and a very green Eddie Lack on the season potentially being the best option).
Briefly speaking on Eddie Lack, though, but the Flames really tightened up once he came in, limiting much of the Blues’ chances (at least for the second period. The third period was its own beast). If he plays more, that could see a change in style from the Flames, as well.
So anyway, about all that scoring.
Jankowski has now played three games with Bennett and Jagr. In that time, he has scored his first, second, and third NHL goals (and was very, very close to a natural hat trick in the first period). Bennett has finally gotten on the board, and even potted a puck himself (he probably could have had some points earlier in the season, too, but they just weren’t going in for him for whatever reason. Now they are. He was too good to go pointless for an entire year). And Jagr is, well, Jagr.
There are some flaws to Jagr’s game – by my eye he seems to be giving the puck away a bit, and his lack of footspeed is something of an issue – but when he’s on, which is more often than not, the presence he has is invaluable. He keeps the puck in the offensive zone, his huge frame allows him to protect the puck, he had perfect vision on that pass for Jankowski’s second of the night. And that’s without going into the off-ice intangibles – primarily his wisdom imparted to this team, and remember that a lot of forwards on the Flames are still pretty young – that could pay dividends for years to come.
So all in all, a net positive, is what I’m saying.
It’s just great that Jankowski only got called up because Jagr was injured, and now Jagr is directly responsible for two of his three goals.
Theirs was the line of the night, but it’s really great when all of the lines get in on the scoring. Sean Monahan was the only forward to not record a single point (there goes the six-game point streak. Demote this man), while the 3M line needed an empty netter to get on the board, but hey, the way that game was going, every insurance goal counted, big time.
Johnny Gaudreau, meanwhile? Seven-game point streak. Tied for third in NHL scoring. Showing no signs of slowing down. Kind of terrifying. Capable of just completely controlling the play on his own. I like him and so should you.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before!
The penalty kill was a failure on the night, going zero-for-one. Remember when the Flames had a top-five penalty kill in the NHL? It’s 29th now.
But honestly, the powerplay might concern me even more. Yes, it scored, but while the Flames were kicking ass at five-on-five play, every time they got a powerplay things just seemed to die. And then it would expire. And then St. Louis would score. I know a good powerplay is going to hopefully score a little more than one out of five tries, but for the Flames’ play to completely collapse when they get one and give up a goal so soon after is… not ideal? Yeah let’s go with that.
It’s one thing to not score. It’s another thing to basically stop playing entirely. It’s not as bad as the Islanders’ seven shorthanded goals against, but it could at least stand to look threatening as their even strength play.
So around the second period, Travis Hamonic and Michael Stone switched partners, bumping Hamonic down the lineup to play with Brett Kulak. Why was addressed; Hamonic’s quick return from injury kind of hampered things there a bit in giving him minutes.
Although the end result wasn’t that different; Hamonic ended up playing two fewer minutes than Stone, though they were probably easier minutes overall (his bit of penalty kill time in the first period aside). Hamonic finished with 17:16, Stone with 19:14, while the top three all registered over 20 minutes each and Brett Kulak clocked in at 11:25.
Hamonic didn’t have great numbers on the night, but (very small sample size beware) his CF% shot up when placed with Kulak, from 27.27% with T.J. Brodie to 41.67%, so probably a good move.
Also, it helps point to just how useful it is to have a player like Kulak filling in that sixth spot. He’s trustworthy on the ice. He’s going to be getting the fewest minutes anyway – at least for now, though I have a feeling he’ll be working his way into more minutes as the season progresses – but it’s really nice to know that the Flames have that reliable presence as their last defenceman who can pick up a struggling teammate and still give him a quality partner to play alongside.
Four lines scored. Three pairings defended. An optimal lineup has 18 effective skaters. That’s the Flames, now.
Positive goal differential
It took the Flames three games to have a positive goal differential this season. Then they got blown out by Ottawa five games in, lost it, and haven’t been able to recover – until last night.
They’re now a +1 on the season! Celebrate good times.
No matter how you slice it, good teams tend to score more goals than they give up. They tend to be playoff teams, at least. It’s kind of a larger, over-looming indicator of expected success.
So while the Flames have been winning more often than not as of late, a lot of them were one-goal wins. Their last multi-goal win came on Oct. 14, against the Vancouver Canucks – a month ago – until these last two games.
This ties right back in with the fact that they’re actually scoring goals now. And hopefully that’s something they’ll be able to keep building on for the season – because they’ll need it.