A dose of positivity: Evaluating the Flames’ standing among bubble teams

Hello, friends.

How’s everyone doing? Sad? Mad? Outright depressed?

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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.

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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
Corsi For 2544 4th
Corsi Against 2310 20th
Corsi For% 52.41 5th
Fenwick For% 51.90 9th
Scoring Chances For% 52.65 5th
Goals For% 51.40 15th
High Danger Cori For 466 9th
High Danger Corsi Against 391 9th
High Danger Corsi For% 54.38 3rd
Shooting Percentage 7.08 21st
Save Percentage 92.97 10th
PDO 100 18th

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.

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Starting off with what is perceived to be the better of the two: the penalty kill.

Calgary Flames

Penalty Kill Metrics


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Corsi Against/60 105.81 20th
Fenwick Against/60 84.3 27th
High Danger Corsi Against/60 24.55 21st
Scoring Chances Against/60 63.43 29th
Save Percentage 88 15th
Goals Against/60 7.17 18th
Penalty Kill% 80.3 18th

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.

You can read in depth about the Flames’ PK and its shortfalls from none other than the PK czar himself, Mike Pfeil (Part 1; Part 2).

The powerplay though, is an interesting inverse of the penalty kill’s “bad stats, OK results” style.

Calgary Flames Powerplay Metrics Rank
Corsi For/60 111.96 8th
Fenwick For /60 78.07 15th
High Danger Corsi For/60 27.03 3rd
Scoring Chances For /60 63.49 7th
Shooting Percentage 11.67 18th
Goals For /60 6.43 22nd
Powerplay % 17.3 23rd

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.

Bubble battles

5v5 Stat CF% SCF% HDCF% GF% PDO
DAL 51.75 51.88 56.35 54.50 100.8
MIN 46.63 49.48 54.27 50.28 100.4
COL 48.40 49.08 47.86 52.97 101.5
CHI 53.14 53.13 47.96 51.78 100.1
SJS 51.87 50.13 48.86 46.11 98.4
LAK 50.31 49.48 45.96 51.76 100.7
ANA 47.41 46.83 47.61 51.91 101.1
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 %
DAL 19.6 81.7
MIN 21.0 81.3
COL 20.7 83.9
CHI 15.0 82.2
SJS 23.7 84.2
LAK 18.8 85.3
ANA 17.5 82.2
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.

  • Vernon30

    Just realized they start a long road trip tonight. Thank God. My theory is they won’t win anything until they go back to some version of their 1980’s sweaters. They started wandering through the wilderness roughly around the time they made that original change to the first set of weirdly-striped unis.

  • Blando

    I fully expect to see them out work the hawks tonight. If that happens they win. If not I guess we can safely say we will know what we have going forward and who stays. I would expect that if the team cares about their position in the race to make a statement and out work the opponent each shift. There is no excuse to continually blow leads after earring them!

  • freethe flames

    All the corsi facts will not change the major problem with this team; identity- they do not know what they are and will not under the current coaching staff. The question is does the talent of this team match the system being used by this team; if the players continue to question the system after a season and a half then there is something wrong ( I believe they do in large part because of their indecisiveness is obvious at times; they seem to play their best hockey when they deviate from what the system is). I also don’t think the player’s trust the head coach to make the right decisions; I’s sure privately they question his player usage on the PP and at key points in the game; how many times do you think they have questioned the deployment of the 4th line in key moments earlier in the season. (note over the last month the 4th line has been much better even in the loses than the first 2 months and this has been a direct result of finally getting that you need more speed in today’s NHL)

    My question is did BT go all in too soon. The Hamonic trade while solidifying our D core may have been a mistake; not because he has struggled but because the rest of the organization was not ready. BT expected our forward depth to be better this year and when it failed to materialize in camp he panicked and brought Jagr in and this did not work as expected. Bennett has not progressed as hoped (remember in summer GG predicted he would be the break out player; this has not happened). Janko has proven to be an NHL player but he is an NHL rookie who will and is having a bit of tough go producing right now. Lazar has not progressed as much as BT would have hoped(although he now seems to have a role that matches his best assets). Would this team have been any worse off than it is now had we started with a Brodie/Stone second pairing and a Kulak/Anderson 3rd pairing? Would we have been any worse off if instead of Jagr it had been a kid right from the start? I personally don’t think so.(but hind sight is always 20/20) Still despite these missteps this team will remain in the hunt for at least a few weeks.

  • Rambo

    Thanks for the positivity. I really believe law of averages has a way of working out.. hopefully this season. Anyone a remember a dominant possession kings team missing the playoffs between their cups? That team did not have any luck for most of the season but evident was still a good team. People need to understand that luck plays a big role and stop focusing in what’s wrong with the team.

  • Eggs Bennett

    The problem I have with watching the Flames is the lack of urgency and execution when leading or on the PP. Some call it lack of a “killer instinct”. The eye test tells you that there is something very wrong when we are up a man because we cannot generate HDSCF due to slow perimeter passing. The silver lining is that the last PP we had against TBL seemed to be clicking with crisp quick one touch passes but we got unlucky and couldn’t convert. However, in many other games, I almost wish that our PP opportunities would turn into 4v4s – we seem to pass and pressure with more urgency at ES than 5v4.

  • buts

    Identity is imposed by the coach, it’s instilled into the team in meetings, at practice on a daily basis. Playoff bound teams do not throw away leads in 6 straight games. Playoff bound teams are better than 12 home wins out of 28 home games. It’s coaching, coaching, coaching. If BT had made a change in December we would have had a chance. I don’t care about stats, so what if we have good stats, the team by the eye test is soft, inconsistent and has too many who’s give a crap meter is stuck on low.

    • JoelOttosJock

      Also lands on the vets and letters. I am not convinced Gio is a great captain..i will probably be trashed for that..despite all his wonderful work in the community, doesnt seem like they are a team..and some of that falls on the C

      • MontanaMan

        I think Gio is an outstanding Captain and I’m not talking about his community work. Listen to any of the youngsters and how he welcomes them to the team. The guy blocks shots, hits and leads by example. I actually think he’s one of the top Captains in the league.

      • snotss

        I agree completely…he seems to have lost a step or two this year…if he is this teams true leader he needs to lead now….I just don’t see any positive leadership qualities in this trying year………….maybe we can get a first round pick back in a trade back for gio………I don’t know

  • T&A4Flames

    Get out on the road. Give Rittich a chance to give Smith a break. And for the love of Flames hockey, dump Cameron and hire another PP coach. The change in coaching personal alone should pump some adrenaline into this crew for s bit. Maybe enough to climb to a playoff spot again.

  • Day1-Cfan

    Lately I don’t know if I have been watching a football game or hockey game with all the lateral passing that has been going on. I thought forward passes get you into the offensive zone.
    Something is going on here, but it is the wrong kind of offensive.
    Time to put the run on GG and give the reins to Conroy for the rest of the year, can’t be any worse me thinks.

    • MontanaMan

      haha. Conroy. Really? With all of his coaching experience? What makes you think Conroy would be a good coach? You can run off GG and bring in a good NHL coach but to suggest Conroy is lunacy.

    • buts

      The lateral passes are part of the possession style system our coach employs. It’s the reason Frolik passed it back on Tuesday. It’s nuts some of the plays made and the indecisiveness shown by some just to have a good Corsi. I believe some players make decisions like flipping the puck on net versus taking a hit to make a play just to get good Corsi stats. Fred Sheri would bench a player for passing behind his net….I know the game has changed but in the 70’s the flyers went forward with the puck as much as possible.

  • Alberta Ice

    What a roller coaster ride this season has been! Most teams have their ups and downs (except, of course, the Vegas team – they just don’t go down – which really makes this roller coaster ride season even more unsettling). Okay, time to take a breath, get back to what made you winners and learn from your mistakes (especially GG). Smithy has had to hold this team together, but it seems like the Frolic blunder pass has really rattled his psyche. (Yep, when you’ve got to goal tend against the opponent and your own team, it does get a bit nerve wracking.) This team needs everyone to bring their A mental game. We know they can do a lot better. Starting tonight! GFG.

  • Trevy

    Don’t worry everyone, looks like GG decided to make some changes for tonight’s game to make that final push for the playoffs. He’s possibly sitting Bennett and inserting Bartkowski in for Kulak. This according to the line combos this morning…look out Chicago!

      • flames2015

        And Brouwer is on the top pp and not hamilton. Honestly it’s gotten to the point that this is on BT now. Step in and doing something about this gong show. I’ve been a fan for years and never have i been this pissed to see how the players are being utilized. We have some good weapons yet we do not put them in a position to succeed. Our most offensive d man doesn’t get top pp time or OT time. But Brouwer on the top unit is OK?

        At the start of the season, the logic behind gio and hamilton being on the 2nd unit was that when the pp was over they would have the best 2 guys out when it was back to 5 on 5. Instead of playing to score on the pp, he sets it so we don’t get scored on after. This is just like his dumb logic to just play for a tie and if we get lucky we might win.

        What has brian burke even done for this team since he’s been here? Truculence? How has that shown for us? Saturday rambles.

      • Kevin R

        Holy [email protected]#* if that’s true. This is a coaching decision not Tre. GG is playing with fire. What coach doesn’t shake up lines when they are sitting where we are in the standings? Time management look at what the future is for this team & that is our youth. Up until this year, there were rumblings that Mackinnon was going to be a meh 1st overall pick. This year the kid is raising his game to an elite level. He’s two years older than Bennett. So lets keep Benny & start playing him like a key to our future with players that will be part of it, not the 3rd line playing with the Brouwers & Hathaways, FFS. & here is where the mistake is made. Backlund is “not” re-signed & could theoretically “not” be a Flame next fall. Frolik will probably “not” be a Flame after his two remaining years are done. So why do we keep rolling out our future franchise player & future Captain Tkachuk with these two guys. Yeah yeah they had a great year last year, so what. Why can’t we start playing Tkachuk with who I see being the future of this team with Bennett & Janko. Call Klimchuk or put Hathaway or Brouwer for all I care on the 3rd line of Backlund, Frolik & ? I like Ferland & his style of play is really suited for Monahan & Gaudreau. When they’re on they are really on & like other top lines they go flat/cold at different times of the year. There is no magical trade we will be able to do & now Tre has to play this out, but no playoffs, coach will be gone the next day. Thank you Christian for trying to cheer this fan up but frustration just runs too deep & cold like the weather outside today.

  • Off the wall

    Thanks for trying to inject us with some Botox Christian.
    Snake venom is heralded as a new treatment for signs of wrinkles. I think our Flames are snake- bit, and it’s restricting our players muscle movement. Brain cramps.

    I think it’s called the Saddledome. It’s become our curse. Anaheim owned it , now the Saddledome has become it. Perhaps we should start wearing amulets to home games?

    Or better yet, we should get rid of the mural of Mt. Everest which our players mistook for Banff. Is it sending the wrong message if our players can’t even decipher it?

    I’m not sure what is going to put us over the hump, playing at our home arena isn’t working.
    “Home is where the heart is.”
    Isn’t that the idiom that’s supposed to describe the comforts of being in familiar surroundings?

    I believe a better expression for our Flames of late are, “ the lights are on but nobody’s HOME“

    A lot could be attributed to special teams, that alone could salvage a otherwise disappointing season. The numbers don’t lie, we are not using the PP to our advantage.

    After tonight, we have a 6 game road trip. Get away from all the hype and noise that’s drowning out the team. It’s probably a blessing in disguise. Focus on all things hockey.

    Our team looks lost, confused and unhappy. I hope we have a remedy for this. After all there’s nothing to write HOME about.

  • snotss

    all the numbers…. the corsi factor etc etc are all just smoke and mirrors..toss all the stats you want this team is not good right now……….can some one explain this teams pathetic home record…..they win a few more at the dome and they suddenly look playoff worthy…..this team is hard to be a fan of………ach f–kin flames!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • WillyWonka

    Backlund, Brouwer & Stajan suck, play all the AHL guys, trade a high-end defenseman and replace them with kids from juniors, fire the coach…..

    there, did i miss anything?

  • McRib

    Jankowski is scratched today instead of Brouwer, Stajan, Lazar, etc. Kulak is scratched for Bartkowski, despite being dragged down by Michael Stone all year, Kulak is the one scratched not Stone. The blind loyalty to useless players on this roster is becoming moronic. The sad thing is if this team doesn’t make the playoffs it’s because of our weakest links, not our best players.

  • WillyWonka

    I don’t have an issue with Jankoski watching a game, though i wouldn’t do it (unless he is injured?) but putting Bennett back at center – not! and Bartkowski in for Kulak? again, i don’t have an issue with rookies watching once in a while, but would rather see Rasmuss

    • Trevy

      I’m with you on this Willy. It’s good to sit a rookie once they become a little complacent just to view the game and get a better understanding at the intensity needed game in and game out

  • The Flames total shot attempt rate on the PP is good, but their ability to turn those attempts into unblocked shots or shots on net is the worst in the league. Their CF/60 is top 10, but their FF/60 and SF/60 is 21st and 24th, respectively. If they can actually start getting the shots through to the net, the PP will turn around.

    • Eggs Bennett

      This is a function of where they are attempting to take the shots from. On the PP, our players perform too much perimeter passing that innevitably results in perimeter shots, which often get easily blocked. This is a coaching/system issue. Quick passes are what’s necessary to open up the “royal road” and open up for one timers and/or other HDSCF taken from closer to the net.

      • freethe flames

        It’s also a function of who is taking the shots. Who has the most PP goals? I think it’s Ferland and for some reason he is not the first PP unit? Go figure.