For months now, myself and an ever growing contingent of Tweeps have noticed damning similarities between this year’s Calgary Flames and last year’s Stanley Cup runner up Nashville Predators.
For starters, both teams started their summers by making a blockbuster move for a defenceman, resulting in their D-corp earning “best defence in the NHL” compliments from fans and pundits alike. Am I comparing Travis Hamonic to P.K. Subban? No. But both deals involving the two were blockbuster in nature. They also went into the season with a starting goaltender well into their 30s.
Then, both teams made cameos in preseason Cup predictions, and featured prominently as likely division leaders (everywhere except the Edmonton Journal, of course).
Usually, that’s where similarities between teams like this end. The regular season starts and off they go, forging a new, divergent path for themselves.
Not so fast.
After 65 games, the 2017-18 Calgary Flames were 32-24-9. The 2016-17 Nasvhille Predators, after 65 games, were 32-24-9. Three games later, their records diverge a little – 33-24-11 for the Predators while the Flames sit at 33-25-10 – but both teams had lost four consecutive games going into game 68, and both teams won said game.
The fortunes for the Predators changed after that, winning six of their following seven and climbing firmly into a playoff spot as a result. They would go 8-5-1 in their final 14 games to finish the season with 94 points and secure the final playoff spot (losing the tiebreak to the Flames who took the final playoff spot and got shellacked by Anaheim).
It’s up to the Flames to continue the uncanny similarities and do the same – if not a smidge better – and grab the last playoff spot in the West.
The uncanny similarities are not simply restricted to their record – which alone would be an unlikely, but possible coincidence. When comparing the finer details of the 2017-18 Calgary Flames to those of the 2016-17 Nashville Predators, they practically look like carbon copies.
|Flames 5v5||NHL Rank||Predators 5v5||NHL Rank|
|Goals For||152 (82g adjusted)||15th||160||10th|
|Goals Against||148 (82g adjusted)||12th||142||11th|
|Goal Differential||+4 (82g adjusted)||16th||+18||9th|
|Goals For %||50.69||16th||52.98||9th|
|Corsi For %||52.93||4th||51.36||5th|
|Scoring Chances For %||53.18||4th||50.75||14th|
|Scoring Chance SH%||7.09||20th||7.74||9th|
|High Danger CF%||55.03||2nd||51.91||9th|
The league relative comparisons are incredibly similar. Both teams controlled play extremely well, although the Flames were more proficient at out-chancing their opponents, especially in the high danger category, and both teams received above average goaltending.
A comparison of special teams is where things get wild.
|Flames||NHL Rank||Predators||NHL Rank|
|Power Play %||18.1||24th||18.9||16th|
|Scoring Chances||490 (82g adjusted)||1st||359||20th|
|HD Corsi For||210 (82g adjusted)||2nd||125||24th|
|Scoring Chance SH%||9.83||16th||11.42||9th|
|Penalty Kill %||80.9||15th||80.9||15th|
|Scoring Chances Against||463 (82g adjusted)||20th||379||20th|
|High Danger CA||184.5||29th||119||2/3rd|
Identical penalty kill results and near-identical power play numbers? Unbelievable.
A deeper dive reveals the Flames have perhaps been lucky to have their PK where it is, with good goaltending keeping out league-worst scoring chance numbers, while the power play is very unlucky to be ranked 24th league-wide when they generate better than anyone. The Predators are the opposite, with fortunate shooting on the PP and excellent PK suppression.
Nonetheless, the results are once again uncanny.
Circling back to the even strength results, the biggest, starkest differences are where the teams ranked in conversion categories. The Predators rank better in goal differential, goals for percentage, shooting percentage and scoring chance shooting percentage. That’s because we are comparing the current Calgary Flames to the year-end Predators. The Preds turned up the heat, and ran into the playoffs on the back of their good play finally paying off into results. They got better shooting percentages down the stretch, and were all around more fortunate, upping their PDO to above 100.
That’s an area the Calgary Flames cannot control. Lady Luck has largely frowned upon the Flames this season, as she did the Predators for most of last season before readjusting her attitude. The Flames have been less than the sum of their parts, never seeming able to put it all together at once, riding the fits and starts of random lines, pairings and special teams. The only constant until recently was their goaltending, which too has run cold with the injury to Mike Smith.
However, if there is one law in the universe, it is the Law of Regression. Things will always regress to mean – positively or negatively. The Flames are due for a positive regression; the only question is, when will it happen? It could very well be beginning, given they got a couple weak goals against the Sabres, and if so, they have a good shot at riding it into a playoff spot. It could very well also wait until next season.
Like the Predators of last season, the Flames don’t have robust forward depth, and get most of their scoring from their top line. Unlike the Predators of last season, the Flames’ defence corps has not lived up to preseason expectations. The struggles of T.J. Brodie and Travis Hamonic at times has hampered this team tremendously. They seem to be potentially turning a corner of late, but we’ve said that before.
The Flames and Preds share other fun fact similarities: a starting goalie at or over the age of 34, a struggling 2014 draft pick trying to find their way (Sam Bennett/Kevin Fiala), all the way down to a Gaudreau (Johnny/Frederick)! Hockey is chock full of similarities and comparables, but few seem to come as indistinguishable as this.
There is no doubt the Calgary Flames of this season and the Nashville Predators of last share abundant similarities – from roster construction to results – but there still remains one significant trait of the Predators that the Flames have yet to parallel: good fortune. Here’s how the final 14 games for the Predators played out last season.
|Corsi For %||52.42|
|Goals For %||56.86|
|Scoring Chances For %||51.13|
|HD Scoring Chances For %||46.98|
They continued to be a dominant possession team – with a random blip in HDSC% – but things actually converted for them. They owned the Goals For at even strength at a monster 56.86% rate. They shot nearly a percent better and got a percent better goaltending: a +2 uptick in PDO. At this of year, unquestionably huge. Their PP continued to struggle along at 11%, their PK upticked five points to 85 over that stretch. It is, without question, that the Nashville Predators befell a run of good fortune down the stretch in 2016-17.
The processes of the Predators down the stretch won’t be difficult for the Flames to emulate – they’ve been doing things right all year – but the results aren’t in their control. We’ve learned that this year, more than any other.
The Flames have shared an awful lot of traits with the Predators of last season, but luck down the stretch will be the one trait that determines whether the Scotiabank Saddledome will host playoff hockey this spring.