The Calgary Flames were a team with some problems in 2017-18. A lot of words were written – both here and elsewhere – about the team’s shortcomings this past season. We’ve dug into some of the numbers regarding the team’s performance in particular game situations, trying to look at whether or not the team truly did “crumble” or collapse in specific situations.
The Flames had a negative goal differential in every major game situation; leading, trailing and when the games were tied. Based on the numbers we’ve dug up, the Flames are a team that battled hard in close games, but seemed to fall off big-time when the games began to get away from them. This is very similar to a phenomenon they experienced in the first half of Glen Gulutzan’s first year behind the bench: the Flames were a team that were constantly chasing (and usually failing) to score the big “next goal” in any game.
The Flames: often chasing
This probably won’t shock anybody, but the Flames trailed in games more often than they had the lead. The other team scored first 48 times, but the Flames ended up coming back to win 15 of those games. Overall, the Flames never had the lead in 24 of their 45 regulation and overtime losses this season – including 10 times through March and April.
The interesting thing is how the Flames seemed to respond when in a trailing situation.
- The Flames went from a tied game situation to down a goal 90 times across all game situations. Their response was functionally 50/50; 46 times they scored to tie it up and 44 times they allowed another goal to go down two goals. The other few times they ended up losing by one goal. The team’s most frequent goal-scorers when down a goal – the players who most reliable tied the game up – were Dougie Hamilton and Matthew Tkachuk, with 7 each.
- The Flames went from another game state to down two goals 50 times. They battled back to tie the game 7 times and scored a goal but didn’t tie another 9 times – so 17 of 50 times they responded with a goal. They didn’t allow any further goals and lost by two 7 times, and they allowed more goals and lost by more than two 27 times. Essentially, they responded 16 times and didn’t respond 34 times. (That’s bad.)
For those of you curious about the impact of the power play, the Flames’ power play scored 16 times when trailing – including 10 goals that tied the game up – while allowing three short-handed goals that expanded their deficit.
|Down by 1||630:34||54.0%||9.55%||90.3%|
|Down by 2+||625:12||61.3%||5.88%||90.8%|
(All numbers are via Natural Stat Trick; game state is 5-v-5.)
Compared to all other game situations, the Flames’ goaltending was the shoddiest when down by one goal. But the team’s shooting percentage is the best when down by one goal. These circumstances explain the 50/50 break the Flames seem when they’re down a goal. But their shooting percentages utterly deflate when they’re down by two goals. The data seems to support the “when the Flames get down, they crumble” narrative – the team giving up multiple goals in rapid succession in March and April wasn’t that much of an aberration based on the data.
Mixed results with holding leads
The Flames scored the first goal 34 times and ended up winning 22 of those games. They never trailed in 20 of their 37 wins, but that only happened four times through March and April.
But again, the Flames reacted a little bit differently when they were up by one than in other lead-holding situations:
- The Flames blew a one goal lead 43 times by allowing the other team to score. They expanded their lead 32 times. The most frequent goal-scorers when up one goal were Sean Monahan (7) and Mikael Backlund (6).
- When up by two goals, they allowed an opposing goal 26 times and expanded their lead 31 times.
The Flames’ penalty kill allowed 11 opposition power play goals when they had a lead – six of them tied the game – and scored two short-handed goals to expand the team’s lead.
Here’s another summary table of the team’s situational stats.
|Up by 1||604:15||48.8%||6.12%||90.7%|
|Up by 2+||430:03||50.1%||8.40%||92.9%|
They were better at everything when leading by two goals or more, perhaps because they were just playing hockey and not pressing too hard to score a goal (or two, or three…).
Sum it up
The Flames had challenges scoring when: down by 2+, tied , and up by 1. They had challenges making saves when: down by 1, down by 2+ and up by 1. The save-making challenges could speak to the Flames cheating a bit defensively and giving up higher-quality chances when down in an effort to get back into the game. Their challenges scoring when tied or up a goal may be some combination of systemic issues, players pressing too hard, and plain ol’ bad puck luck.