Mike Smith and David Rittich are the NHL’s best goaltending tandem, the Flames are generating offence like a top end team, and most importantly, they’ve won seven straight games. Things are generally trending positively for Calgary as they hit their five-day break, but a few areas still need to be cleaned up with less than half the season remaining.
Goaltending leads the way, as I was stunned to see just how strong the Flames have been relative to the rest of the league. I knew Smith and Rittich were having strong seasons, but perhaps not to this level. When you factor in only their work, and subtract Eddie Lack and Jon Gillies, you get a pretty impressive looking picture.
I omitted Lack and Gillies because we’re projecting trends going forward, and neither goalie factors in for the rest of this season. Even with their games accounted for, though, Calgary still ranks seventh overall and fifth at even strength.
Any way you look at it, the Flames have received elite-level goaltending so far this season, and the duo of Smith and Rittich is showing no signs of falling off a cliff. Even if things do drop off a little, Calgary’s goaltending alone should give them a solid chance of securing a playoff berth for a second straight season. Fortunately, things are also trending well in other important areas, too.
The Flames are a top end team at the other end of the ice and have spent more time than not on the attack this season. Calgary ranks as a top five team in both raw shot attempts and attempts per 60 minutes, which bodes well the rest of the way.
Of course, shot attempts and possession are just part of the equation. The other top teams above aren’t what you’d call juggernaut squads, so there’s definitely more to the conversation. Spending time in the offensive zone is great, but if that time isn’t productive, it carries a lot less weight.
It just so happens the Flames are also one of the NHL’s top teams in generating quality scoring chances. Per Natural Stat Trick, Calgary’s top end zone time correlates nicely with high danger chances, where they also rank near the top.
|1||New York Rangers||13.1|
The totality of the package here is impressive. The Flames are getting outstanding goaltending while also generating offence at a topflight level. If this was 20 games in I’d be preaching caution with a small sample size, but we’re talking about a team with 45 games under their belt. That’s enough of a body of work to deem these trends likely to continue, barring things like injury and crazy bad luck.
In need of improvement
For Calgary to truly ascend to the NHL’s upper echelon, they’ve got a couple areas to focus on as we approach the stretch drive. As good as their goaltending has been thus far, the Flames probably rely on their duo a little too much, as they probably allow more rubber towards the net than desired.
It’s important to point out Calgary certainly hasn’t been bad defensively. Instead, they’re just not as strong as in other areas, as the Flames are a middle of the pack team suppressing shots and shot attempts. Crucially, though, they’ve done a good job in limiting quality chances against, which shows Calgary has defended effectively when in their own zone.
Then there’s the powerplay, which has been a hot mess for the better part of two months. On the bright side, the Flames were able to notch a few powerplay goals heading into the break, so perhaps they’re starting to turn things around. Overall, though, the results have been mediocre at best since late November.
|Oct. 4 – Nov. 24||22||22.1||11th|
|Nov. 25 – Jan. 15||23||14.7||22nd|
The splits above correspond to the loss of Kris Versteeg, who went down with a hip injury in the team’s Nov. 24 loss in Dallas. For whatever reason, Versteeg’s absence threw Calgary into disarray on the man advantage, specifically the top unit. Even with high end play at five-on-five, the Flames will continue to be held back from all they can be if the powerplay isn’t permanently rectified.
I’m feeling mostly positive about this team as we move towards February, because things are looking up. Calgary goes into their break in a Pacific Division playoff spot and riding a well deserved seven-game win streak. As such, the mood around the team is more positive than it has been all season.
Even if they don’t improve in their weaker areas, the Flames should be a playoff team come April. As Pike surmised a couple days ago, 20-16-1 or something similar should get Calgary to 95 points and a playoff spot. The way things are trending, that is very much attainable, if not better, barring a rash of injuries or bad luck.
I’m confident in saying the Flames are a good team through 45 games. Let’s see how good they can be after 82.