Forty-one games are in the books; another 41 games to go. The Flames have reached the halfway point of the 2017-18 season, and they are on pace for 92 points, which is off from the 98-point pace they were at 20 games ago.
They undeniably fell off for a bit there, but now on a three-game winning streak, the tide could be turning. Hopefully they’ll be stronger in the second half, because they’ll need to be in order to make the playoffs.
The race in the West isn’t any clearer. Arizona is almost certainly out of it. Vancouver and Edmonton are looking like they’re out of it. Every other team is in play. For as much as the Flames are at the back of the pack points-wise, they’re also two points back of taking a wild card spot (same number of games played), and three points back of third in the Pacific (two more games played).
- Are tied for 16th league-wide in points percentage (.561), fourth in their division.
- Are 21st league-wide in goals for (113), tied for 18th in goals per game (2.76).
- Are tied for 13th league-wide in goals against (116), tied for 14th in goals against per game (2.83).
- Are tied for the 20th best powerplay league-wide (17.6%).
- Have the 25th best penalty kill league-wide (78.8%).
- Have the fourth best 5v5 CF% in the NHL (52.87%).
- Have the second highest 5v5 CF/60 in the league (65.05).
- Have the 15th best 5v5 CA/60 in the league (57.98).
- Have the eighth highest 5v5 SF/60 in the league (33.41).
- Have the 12th best 5v5 SA/60 in the league (30.98).
- Are fourth in the NHL in 5v5 SCF/60 (30.95).
- Are tied for ninth in the NHL in 5v5 SCA/60 (27.25).
- Are 23rd in the NHL in shooting percentage, at 8.35% (25th in 5v5 shooting percentage, at 6.99%).
- Are 17th in the NHL in save percentage, at 90.99% (eighth in 5v5 save percentage, at 92.86%).
- Have a .993 PDO in all situations (.999 at 5v5 play).
Their points percentage has dropped, but their goals for and against per game have both improved. Their powerplay has plummeted, but their penalty kill has gotten better. Their corsi, shots, and scoring chances have improved across the board on both the offensive and defensive sides. Their modest increase in shooting percentage hasn’t been enough to offset their anticipated drop in save percentage, however, so while everything looks great with the underlying numbers, they still aren’t scoring more than other teams, and consequently wins haven’t been coming.
If there is any justice to this – and that is absolutely not something one can bank on – then the Flames are due to go on a run, and one strong enough that will see them solidify themselves as a playoff team. The points left on the table will hurt those efforts, but there’s still half a season to be played and, ultimately, the Flames have played a strong first half, even if they need to start seeing much, much more in the way of actual results now.
One of the biggest changes that has happened over the past 20 games is David Rittich appears to be a full-time NHLer now, at least in a backup role. He pushed Eddie Lack out of the organization, allowing Tyler Parsons to go up a level, all while providing stable numbers in each of his games played, and a .924 save percentage over five games (four starts, one in relief which dropped his numbers. Take that game out, and his lowest save percentage is .923).
Mike Smith is still one of the league’s busiest goalies, with 35 games started (a four-way tie across the NHL for the most by any goalie). He has seen the third most shots again (1,088 – Frederik Andersen and Henrik Lundqvist are above him), and has the fourth most saves (1,001, throw Andrei Vasilevskiy’s name into the mix). His .920 save percentage is the second best of his career, and ranks 10th league-wide amongst goalies with at least 20 games played. His even strength save percentage is .926, tied for eighth league-wide, and where he has seen his biggest drop. Smith is still one of the NHL’s better goalies this season, but he’s not quite in the upper echelon anymore.
Johnny Gaudreau, at this point, may have taken the lead for team MVP, though I wouldn’t count Mark Giordano out the way things have been going lately. Gaudreau, however, has 46 points in 41 games: the 10th highest scorer in the NHL. He fell off for a bit there, but if recent play has been any indication, he might also be back now, and could jump back up those scoring ranks – though there’s a bit more ground to make up on.
Courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, here’s how each individual Flame has fared so far this season. All stats are at 5v5, and the table is ordered by ice time:
The Flames have had to contend with more injuries through this past quarter of the season, most notably Michael Frolik, Kris Versteeg, and Jaromir Jagr. That’s seen some AHL promotions take prominence. Mark Jankowski has gotten increased usage, while Garnet Hathaway went from one game played to looking like a full-timer. The only players who dropped down the ice time rankings while still in good health have been Brett Kulak and Curtis Lazar, though not by much.
For the most part, the Flames’ individual corsi-fors have gone up over the second quarter of the season. That was the case for all seven defencemen, while the entire third line – Sam Bennett, Jankowski, and Hathaway – all shot up from sub-50% ratings to find themselves all in the black. Troy Brouwer is the only regular, healthy forward who is still under 50%. The 3M line all fell a bit across the board, but they still have the top corsis amongst the forwards.
Narrow the scope to high-danger events only, and there hasn’t been universal improvement. Those whose numbers have declined haven’t declined by much, though. But where the biggest differences lie are in T.J. Brodie, Travis Hamonic, and the third line, with Brodie, Hamonic, and Jankowski jumping up by roughly six points each, while Bennett shot up a whopping 9.5 points. The Flames have been undergoing expected fluctuations, but there has been a strong, marked improvement in two of their biggest problem areas. Who’s worried about the second defence pairing and third line now?
There hasn’t been much change in regards to players’ zone starts, so roles remain the same. What has changed is sheltered lines – the first and third – are still getting offensive zone starts, but not quite as much. Meanwhile, defensive lines – 3M and the fourth – have been getting more offensive zone starts. Things have been balancing out some. The defence is largely unchanged.
As for the powerplay, again ordered by TOI, players with minimal time excluded:
It took a silly amount of time to get Brodie off of the top unit, and truthfully, it looks like if the Flames want to maximize their assets, Dougie Hamilton should be there as opposed to Giordano. Matthew Tkachuk absolutely should be on the top unit, though, while one could make a case to have Micheal Ferland back on top and Mikael Backlund on the second unit – but I suppose spreading things out helps.
How much is Versteeg missed? A lot.
And penalty kill:
The further down you go, the lower the numbers get – small sample size beware – but Jankowski stands out as someone really, really interesting here. Brodie could maybe stand to have a bigger role killing penalties, as well.