How’s everyone doing? Sad? Mad? Outright depressed?
January was a bizarre month for the Calgary Flames. The team experienced both their longest winning and (ongoing) losing streaks of the season, the latter being outright bizarre.
The sky, that not two weeks ago looked to be painted by Michelangelo, is now falling.
The Flames have blown leads in six straight games leading to six straight losses. Cushioned only by the fact the first four were in extra time and they extracted a point each, the Flames have toppled from second in the Pacific, to fifth, and out of the playoffs. It feels like at least once a week we’re left staring at our televisions after a game thinking, “How the hell did they lose that?”
All the underlying numbers for the Flames seem to be stellar, but they’ve been consistently inconsistently all year, always disjointed to the point of failure. When the goaltending is a wall, and scoring is the Sahara. When the scoring is 1989, so is the goaltending. Special teams cannot be counted upon to lead them through the darkness.
There is a legitimate case to be made that this team should be riding a 13-game win streak right now. But alas, they’ve won fewer than half the games they’ve played, have a negative goal differential and sit two points out of a playoff spot.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Let’s delve into some optimistic talk about your Calgary Flames.
A tale of two teams
I’m sure you’re sick of hearing this, but the Flames are a very dominant team at even strength. If the results would just cooperate, you could comfortably label them as #actuallygood.
In nearly every meaningful advanced statistical category at 5on5, the Flames show extremely well (surprise!).
|Calgary Flames||5v5 metric||Rank|
|Scoring Chances For%||52.65||5th|
|High Danger Cori For||466||9th|
|High Danger Corsi Against||391||9th|
|High Danger Corsi For%||54.38||3rd|
Basically, the Flames are one of the single best teams in the NHL at 5v5. While they allow an above average amount of Corsi events against, they do an excellent job suppressing High Danger ones, suggesting their defensive structure forces teams mostly to the perimeter. On offence, they produce a ton – if only that SH% would cooperate.
Unfortunately, you can’t just exclude special teams, and that’s where the Mr. Hyde to their Dr. Jekyll emerges.
Starting off with what is perceived to be the better of the two: the penalty kill.
Penalty Kill Metrics
|High Danger Corsi Against/60||24.55||21st|
|Scoring Chances Against/60||63.43||29th|
Well, it may be better of late having climbed from worst in the league to 18th, but the Flames’ PK is still among the worst in the league in suppressing chances. If it weren’t for the 15th ranked save percentage, they’d be in a bad way.
The powerplay though, is an interesting inverse of the penalty kill’s “bad stats, OK results” style.
|Calgary Flames||Powerplay Metrics||Rank|
|Fenwick For /60||78.07||15th|
|High Danger Corsi For/60||27.03||3rd|
|Scoring Chances For /60||63.49||7th|
|Goals For /60||6.43||22nd|
What the hell is going on with this season? Up is down but down isn’t up, it’s actually left somehow. What a clusterfunk of nonsensical results.
Much like their play at 5 on 5, the Flames are among the league leaders in generating shots towards the net, shots from high danger areas towards the net and scoring chances, but are somehow among the worst scoring teams. Their shooting percentage has recovered a bit this month, but is still below average.
This analysis, however, compares the Flames to the rest of the league. To get a sense of where the Flames stand in the bloodbath that is the playoff bubble in the West, let’s compare them to the other seven teams all within seven points of each other. The Flames are second from the bottom with 58 points (Chicago’s at 55), and Dallas and San Jose are at the top with 62. Ridiculous stuff.
|CGY||52.41 (2nd)||52.65 (2nd)||54.38 (2nd)||51.40 (6th)||100 (7th)|
What stands out immediately are the possession numbers of Colorado, Anaheim and Minnesota. They’re bottom nine in the league, Anaheim being fourth worst overall and Minnesota second. Yeesh.
What stands out next is the Flames’ standing amongst their brethren. They rank second in all major offensive chance categories, trailing only Chicago in Corsi and scoring chances and Dallas in high danger Corsi. No surprise given what we’ve learned about them at even strength. However, everyone but San Jose and Minnesota seems to make hay more consistently on their chances at even strength. The Flames are sixth of the eight teams in goal for percentage at 5 on 5, San Jose in particular seeming to stay afloat only by the edge of their teeth and/or powerplay.
Staying on the Sharks though, they’re the only team that has been markedly unlucky, with a 98.4 PDO stringing from their fifth worst in the league 6.60 SH%. That probably explains their lacking GF% and suggests they’re due for a correction at evens soon. Combine that with a lethal powerplay, and the Sharks are a pretty good bet to hang around for the rest of the year.
Dallas is also a bonafide beast, posting sterling metrics across the board with only a slightly inflated 100.8 PDO. What’s most impressive about them is, like the Flames, they have sensational SCF% and HDCF% numbers, indicating they don’t just throw pucks willy-nilly at the net, but rather create quality opportunities with consistency. Unlike the Flames, they capitalize on them. That GF% Dallas has is more in line with what you’d think Calgary would be producing.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, teams like Colorado, Chicago, LA and Anaheim really struggle with producing high quality chances. Their success in producing Corsi events in general varies, but they share the struggle of owning the scoring chance and high danger Corsi share on a nightly basis. The common denominator here is goaltending, though. They’re all backstopped well and thus mitigate the damage. Chicago’s goaltending has been the lesser of the bunch and unsurprisingly, they currently define the bottom of the playoff bubble.
Anaheim and Colorado are the luckiest of the bunch (go figure) and it’s pretty obvious how this will shake out, in my opinion. Colorado will decline, especially with Nathan MacKinnon out of the lineup for an extended stretch and Jonathan Bernier’s predicted descent back down to the land of the mortals, while Anaheim will somehow sustain this insufferable run of luck they’ve had since about 2002. Their PDO might even increase!
At evens though, the Flames look to be among the best of the bubble teams, behind only Dallas. As far as the Pacific division goes, the Flames look to be the front runners for one of the two available spots when analyzing even strength play. Of course, once again, we must factor in special teams.
|Special teams||Powerplay %||Penalty Kill %|
|CGY||17.3 (7th)||80.3 (8th)|
Well, everyone has good-to-great special teams and the Flames don’t. It’s pretty clear that the reason they’re on the bubble is because the special teams is the lead to their even strength helium. They could be far away from all these teams if they had even average special teams.
The picture is far from grim. True, it’s far from ideal too, but the Flames match up extremely well against the teams they’re battling for the final four playoff spots, save special teams.
There’s twice as many competing teams as there are spots, but I don’t think you can categorize them as having just an outside chance. They are still very much in control their own destiny, and look to be a team capable of fulfilling said destiny.
Every team needs to make improvements, and for the Flames, it’s obviously special teams. The powerplay shows signs of life from a generation standpoint and their shooting percentage is bound to go up at 5v5, too. Ideally, that would offset a dip in goaltending should it happen, and they could be on their way.
This season though has been anything but predictable, and though the Flames still look – on paper – to be in pretty good shape heading into the stretch run, it’s anyone’s guess how it plays out in the end.
All I know is there was a team in recent memory that chugged along a very similar route as the Flames – underlyings and all – and was able to click it together at the perfect time. That team was the 2016-17 Nashville Predators, and they’re a reminder to not lose hope when all the signs point to something great on the horizon.