Why are the Flames missing the playoffs this season? It’s a question seemingly everyone has an opinion on, and most of those thoughts are probably accurate in some form or another. In putting together my top five reasons, two stand out from the rest: their inability to win at home and a painstakingly inept powerplay. Let’s see if I touch any other nerves.
Calgary’s poor powerplay has been a constant theme this season with only a couple stretches to the contrary. You can break the season into four chunks when analyzing the Flames on the powerplay, including a fairly solid first 22 games.
|Oct. 4 – Nov. 24||22||17-77||22.1|
|Nov. 25 – Feb. 8||32||13-101||12.9|
|Feb. 9 – Feb. 24||9||11-36||30.6|
|Feb. 27 – March 27||14||1-42||2.4|
In those first 22 games, Calgary had a top 10 powerplay and looked dangerous most of the time. Following Kris Versteeg’s hip injury, though, things fell right off a cliff, which is almost inexplicable. I like Versteeg on the powerplay; he moves the puck well and is a good fit on the team’s 1-3-1 setup. But losing one player shouldn’t send things into a complete tailspin.
The Flames limped haplessly along until early February when they decided to juggle things up on their two units. While many fans shouted “finally”, Calgary gave Dougie Hamilton a shot on the top unit and it paid immediate dividends, albeit temporary. Since the immediate surge, things have gone stagnant once again for the Flames, leading us to where we are now.
The Flames are in danger of doing something they haven’t done in 15 years: finishing below .500 on home ice. Dating back to their time in Atlanta, that’s something this organization has only done three times prior; at 15-18-4, they’re in danger of adding to that total with four home games remaining.
On the surface, it’s hard to wrap your head around how bad things have been at the Scotiabank Saddledome. When you dig a little deeper, though, it makes a little more sense. It comes down to one thing more than anything else: goaltending. Calgary has gotten it on the road and they just haven’t at home.
At .893, the Flames rank 30th in home save percentage this season, which is almost all you need to know. In terms of shot attempts and scoring chances, Calgary has actually been as good or better on home ice. Bad goaltending will sewer the best of teams, tough, and this team’s home record will attest to just that.
Entering this season, general manager Brad Treliving was openly concerned about his team’s ability to score up and down the lineup. Seventy-seven games into the season, that has proved to be painfully prophetic. Specifically at forward, the Flames have been far too top heavy this season and haven’t presented difficult matchup issues for opposing teams.
Calgary has gotten what they’ve needed from a lot of their top six forwards. Career highs for Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Micheal Ferland, and Matthew Tkachuk kept the team competitive for most of this season, so it’s tough to be critical there. But as we wrote about earlier this month, there just hasn’t been enough to pick up the slack on nights where the top six isn’t rolling.
The biggest culprit here has been the trio of Sam Bennett, Mark Jankowski, and (mostly) Garnet Hathaway. Fed the most offensive starts on the team, they just haven’t been a consistent scoring threat as a unit.
By and large, and especially recently, the team’s fourth line has been fine, at least in a largely defensive role. Knowing the personnel involved and their usage, offensive production isn’t realistic, which would be fine if the team’s third unit helped pick up the slack. That hasn’t happened and, at least in my view, it has soured the perception of this team’s bottom six.
I don’t have a fancy table to illustrate this one, so all I can do is list off a bunch of losses in recent memory. In no particular order, those would be to: Las Vegas (x2), Colorado, San Jose, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, and Florida (and that’s probably not all).
What do all of those games have in common? In every instance, the Flames were in a good spot only to buckle at the sight of even the slightest adversity. Sometimes a great start would be nullified by a bad goal against, while another example saw a game-tying goal taken off the board thanks to an offside challenge. The result in every case was the team flying right off the rails.
Whether you call it mental toughness, game management, frustration, or fragility, the fact is Calgary hasn’t had sufficient answers when things haven’t gone right. No team is going to have everything go their way, but unraveling as a result is a surefire way to an early summer.
All of the things listed above would have made qualifying for the playoffs difficult enough for the Flames. But when you add completely horrid percentages to the equation, it all combines for a perfect storm of garbage too insurmountable for this group.
Are the Flames simply just “unlucky” to have missed the playoffs? No, of course not, because that’s a total copout. On the flip side, completely ignoring how seemingly nothing has bounced their way for what seems like months would be burying your head in the sand. Just look at their shooting percentage breakdowns in different segments this season.
|Oct. 4 – March 19||74||35-29-10||8.1||26th|
|Jan. 20 – March 19||29||10-13-6||7.0||31st|
|Feb. 27 – March 19||11||3-7-1||5.0||31st|
All season long this team has battled an abnormally low shooting percentage, but it has truly become an unbeatable enemy in recent weeks. I cut the data off after Calgary’s March 19 loss in Arizona, as that was truly the night their playoff hopes went up in smoke. Look at those two smaller segments, though, because they tell a story.
Jan. 20 was the team’s afternoon shootout loss to Winnipeg, which also snapped their win streak at seven games. The Flames have had a mediocre record ever since while also sporting the league’s worst shooting percentage during that stretch. The same is true of the 11-game segment that truly sewered their season, starting with a loss in Dallas on Feb. 27.
Making matters worse is Calgary’s recent goaltending, because it hasn’t been there to pick up the slack. Mike Smith has struggled mightily after missing 13 games with a lower body injury, while David Rittich and Jon Gillies weren’t great in his absence. Plotting their PDO (save percentage plus shooting percentage) in the same segments is appalling.
|Jan. 20 – March 19||29||.965||29th||.974||29th|
|Feb. 27 – March 19||11||.934||31st||.959||29th|
What this tells us is simple: at the most important time, the Flames ran into horrible puck luck and didn’t have the goaltending to keep them afloat. It’s a brutal combination that compounded the other issues this team battled all season long.
You can tell me all you want how Calgary doesn’t have the skill to finish scoring chances, and hey, that might be partially true. But no team, regardless of their skill level, sees a four point drop in shooting percentage without bad luck factoring in. Knowing the other issues plaguing the Flames this season, they simply couldn’t afford for this to happen and their putrid end to the season is the result.