Through the first half of the season, the Calgary Flames have been a weirdly inconsistent team.
For an illustration of what we mean by “inconsistent,” we dug into the team’s special teams progress and processes this season. The aim of power plays is to score goals and of penalty kills is to prevent them – those are the results, but the processes are just as important. So we dug into the scoring chances that the Flames’ special teams units are producing or preventing.
The numbers are fairly mixed.
Season at a glance
Scoring chances per 60, rolling five-game average:
The above graphic depicts Scoring Chances Generated Per 60 Minutes by the power play (blue line) and Scoring Chances Allowed Per 60 Minutes by the penalty kill (orange line). If everything’s going well, the blue line should be above the orange line.
The power play started off slowly, had a nice spike in mid-November – ironically, after the 8-2 shellacking from Detroit – and has had another hot streak more recently, starting around mid-December.
The penalty kill started off well, but basically fell off the rails after the first couple weeks. It’s only recently, again around mid-December, started to rein in the scoring chances it’s been allowing all season.
Compared to the rest of the league, the power play is ninth in chance generation while the penalty kill is 26th in chance suppression.
Power play units
The Flames have generally relied upon two main power play groups this season, though they made some significant changes to those units around the time that Kris Versteeg went out with his injury and then a few more tweaks when Michael Frolik was injured. Though Frolik wasn’t a steady PP body, he was one of several options that Dave Cameron and Glen Gulutzan have rotated in from time to time.
Unit 1: Sean Monahan – Johnny Gaudreau – Kris Versteeg – Micheal Ferland/Troy Brouwer – T.J. Brodie [92.5 SCF60 with Ferland, 81.5 SCF60 with Brouwer]
Unit 2: Mikael Backlund – Matthew Tkachuk – Sam Bennett/Michael Frolik – Mark Giordano – Dougie Hamilton [48.8 SCF60 with Bennett, 30.8 SCF60 with Frolik]
The first unit was better with Ferland, but Brouwer was used for net-front presence and to have a second right shot on the ice. Bennett was usually used as the net-front presence on the second unit.
Jaromir Jagr occasionally subbed into both units (jumping in usually for Ferland/Brouwer or Bennett/Frolik), but he didn’t play a ton of consistent minutes on either unit.
The injuries to Versteeg and Frolik removed a couple options from the power play mix, but they also basically forced Gulutzan and Cameron to think a bit outside the box.
New Unit 1: Sean Monahan – Johnny Gaudreau – Mikael Backlund – Matthew Tkachuk – Mark Giordano [69.8 SCF60]
New Unit 2: Mark Jankowski – Sam Bennett – Micheal Ferland – T.J. Brodie – Dougie Hamilton [38.4 SCF60]
The Flames’ power play is definitely better with Versteeg, but given the remaining players available it seems that the coaching staff is doing a decent job throwing together two units that can generate some chances.
Penalty kill units
The penalty kill has been a bit wonky because the units have varied a lot despite being more or less set in stone. Prior to Michael Frolik’s injury, the Flames operated with two main units (each with the same general variation) and a rolling third pair of forwards.
Unit 1: Mikael Backlund – Michael Frolik – Mark Giordano – Travis Hamonic/Michael Stone [69.0 SCA60 with Hamonic, 70.8 SCA60 with Stone]
Unit 2: Matt Stajan – Troy Brouwer – T.J. Brodie – Michael Stone/Travis Hamonic [83.0 SCA60 with Stone, 52.5 SCA60 with Hamonic]
Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett served as a third forward pairing, as well. The placement of Stone and Hamonic has varied throughout the year. Primarily, it seems that whichever of them was next up in the rotation at the time the penalty was taken was put out with Giordano. That said, sometimes either player was double-shifted, so it seems that their usage is very context-dependent. The results of each player isn’t context-dependent: both units are better with Hamonic on the ice.
Frolik’s injury caused only minor variations, but the big impact seems to be – like with the power play – incorporating new faces into the groupings.
New Unit 1: Mikael Backlund – Troy Brouwer – Mark Giordano – Travis Hamonic [50.7 SCA60]
New Unit 2: Mark Jankowski – Garnet Hathaway – T.J. Brodie – Michael Stone [39.8 SCA60]
So far, the variation in defensemen seems to have ended and both units are used fairly consistently. If you’re looking at the numbers, you’ll notice one interesting thing: it’s a small sample size, but both units are an improvement on the previous penalty kill groupings in terms of suppressing scoring chances.
A thought on player usage
Four players are used on both sides of special teams lately: Backlund, Giordano, Brodie and Jankowski. That’s kind of remarkable considering that Jankowski began the season in the minors.
Presuming the “usual” lineup, three regulars don’t play on either side of special teams: Curtis Lazar, Brett Kulak and Andrew Mangiapane. Everybody else plays in the top two units of either the power play or penalty kill.
Working around some big absences
It’ll be very interesting to see what adjustments the Flames make in February when Frolik returns, given the results we’ve seen from the penalty kill in his absence – my guess is Brouwer and Stajan settle in as the third pairing and Frolik returns to his old spot with Backlund.
On the power play side, the team’s plodding along without Versteeg but the numbers – whether scoring chances or goals – and the vaunted eye test both suggest that their man advantage play is way better with him in the lineup. With Versteeg’s injury decidedly more long-term than Frolik’s, the challenge will be for the coaching staff and players to figure out a way to get more out of the power play on a consistent basis.