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Leaky defensive play leads early trends, positive and negative

Ten games into a new season, the Flames are bleeding scoring chances all over the place. Of all the trends we’ve seen early this year, Calgary’s defensive issues lead the way. It’s not all bad, though, despite Thursday’s ugly loss. As we take a look at three of the biggest trends I’ve noticed so far, one positive makes the cut. Until the Flames work things out defensively, though, that positive can’t top the list.


It’s difficult to put your finger on why Calgary has been so porous to start the season. There are definitely different theories: a new coaching staff and system, the absence of Dougie Hamilton, and an influx of new players could all be reasons for the issues we’ve seen. Regardless of what the answer is, the team better figure it out soon, because evidence would suggest the Flames are one of the league’s worst defensive teams right now.

Calgary’s five-on-five shot metrics are fairly solid to start the season. The Flames are a top 10 possession team and are doing a solid job of creating attempts and scoring chances. Unfortunately, Calgary has turned into a high-event team at both ends of the ice, which means lots of pucks towards their net, too. Most troubling is the amount of high-danger chances this team is allowing on a nightly basis (all scoring chance data courtesy Natural Stat Trick).

HDCA (5v5) Rank HDCA (overall) Rank
124 30th 149 T-29th

At five-on-five, only the Anaheim Ducks (131) have allowed more 10-bell chances to start the season; Calgary is actually worse than Anaheim at 12.4 per game. It’s not much better when you expand the scope, either. The Flames sit 29th in overall high danger chances against, behind only Anaheim and tied with Chicago. The defensive breakdowns we’ve seen through 10 games, and their frequency, go a long way in minimizing any of Calgary’s good work with the puck.


Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

The players we’ve become accustomed to leading the way are doing so once again this season, starting with Johnny Gaudreau. While the team’s top line has had some issues in the two-way game, Gaudreau has been dynamite more often than not. He leads the team with 12 individual high danger chances at five-on-five and his 15 overall chances sits third behind Sean Monahan (16) and Matthew Tkachuk (17).

Speaking of Tkachuk, he’s been part of the team’s best line, which should surprise absolutely no one. The ‘3M line’ has knocked it out of the park thus far, specifically the duo of Tkachuk and Mikael Backlund. And, after sitting out as a healthy scratch for one game, Michael Frolik has looked right back at home on the right side of that trio.

Player CF% OZS%
Mikael Backlund 61.7 53.0
Matthew Tkachuk 59.7 59.3

Among regular forwards, Backlund’s possession rate puts him second on the team while Tkachuk sits third. And, as we’ve come to expect, this line is taking on the toughest opposing matchups every night and excelling in the process. The best example of that might have been 3M’s performance against Boston’s dynamite top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak.

Finally, Mark Giordano is still staying one step ahead of Father Time. While the undefeated champion will eventually win out, Calgary’s 35-year-old captain hasn’t shown any signs of his age and is still this team’s best defenceman. With Hamilton’s departure, and with some of TJ Brodie’s early struggles, you can make the argument the Flames have just the one top pairing defenceman on their roster. Luckily that guy is Giordano and he looks as good as ever.


It’s still early and there’s plenty of time for things to play themselves out positively, but to see Calgary’s powerplay struggle brings back plenty of painful memories. The Flames have a new coach running things and new personnel, but if you’re a frustrated fan right now, you certainly have every right to be.

It sure did seem like Calgary had turned a corner very early on. After going 0/7 on opening night, the Flames exploded on the powerplay for a pair of wins. Unfortunately, things have largely sputtered since that Oct. 9 win over Nashville as illustrated below.

Games PP PP%
Oct. 6 & 9 5/11 45.5
Other 8 games 1/30 3.3

More than anything, the Flames need to figure out what they’re doing with their powerplay personnel. The second unit has been a revolving door of bodies since night one and has yet register a goal, while the first group has been inconsistently dangerous at best. Thursday saw Calgary shuffle their powerplay personnel again, so I don’t think they’ve come close to being comfortable.

  • canadian1967

    If your best players never back-check, or play the body, or get puck-side or answer the call to battle when required, then your “Team” is bound to fail.

    Forget the goalie not making saves. It’s not from a lack of effort.

    What about the fact that our Defencemen have to play 2 on 5 in our end far too often because SOME of our forwards refuse to come back and help out. After all how can our D NOT appear to be out of position when they have to do their own job plus cover the point and slot for SOME of our forwards who think they will blow up if they come back into our end unless the whistle has blown?

    What pisses most of us off, is the lack of just plain old effort from our so-called best players in those games where things are tough. It’s easy to play when everything is clicking, but I want to see Blood and Guts effort when things are Pear shaped!!

    Marshmallow Monahan is the most invisible 30 goal scorer ever. Literally good for nothing unless the puck is on his stick within 20 feet of the net!
    Johnny is great when he has the puck, but is taking a heavy toll.
    Backlund is just a good player, but can not score so shouldn’t be in our top 6.
    Frolik. Sigh. Just…. NO.
    Brodie…. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Sigh.
    Stone is a perfectly acceptable 6 or 7
    Smith…. What the Hell Man? Are you still injured? should you be on WCB due to previous conditions?

    I’m tired of most of those guys. WHO’S UP FOR A MARCH ON THE DOME?


    • canadian1967

      Someone tell Monahan that Hockey is about more than Looking Cool.
      Tkachuk needs to meet him at the dressing room door and rip that Fuc*in’ A off Sean’s shirt and get it put onto Hamonics Chest. And while they’re at it someone needs to do the same to the A on Backlund. Give Backlunds A to the stick boy, because he probably cares more than Mikael does. (it seems)

      Those guys aren’t leaders.
      If the Flames were a War Movie, Monahan and Backlund aren’t being played by John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. Monahan and Backlund are the weak/traitorous guys that when the Wayne or Eastwood Character calls them out and knocks them on their ass we all stand up and cheer!

      Tear this crap down.
      Monahan to TO for Nylander.
      Backlund to OTT for Stone
      Johnny and Gillies to PHI for Konecny, Sanheim and our goalie of the future Carter Hart.
      Frolik to Kladno for Freeeeeeeeee….

      If that’s too many moves, then I could live with the Monahan and Gaudreau moves.

    • Luter 1

      What three knuckleheads would trash this? Your bang on with your player assessment, I started a “who kidnapped the real Monahan” about 3 games ago and that definitely hasn’t changed. You have to start questioning whether legalization has affected the Flames and the Stamps because they are both in a serious downer! Neal’s skating is frightening me, he makes Brouwer look fast.

  • Off the wall

    I’ve been doing a little digging in our stats and here are some observations.

    Our PP will need some new bodies. Based on the statistics the following should NOT be used on the PP. (in order)
    Czarnik ( you know I love this kid, however he doesn’t belong) Backlund, Neal, Brodie and Ryan.
    All do not contribute a single thing to the PP.

    Those that currently do (in order)
    Tkachuk, Giordano, Monahan, Gaudreau and Lindholm. After that, natta..

    PK- our best Pk’ers are currently
    ( in order)
    Ryan, Jankowski, Giordano, Bennett, Hanifin and Lindholm and believe it or not Brodie.

    Worst PKers ( in order) Frolik, Dube, Stone, Czarnik and Backlund. Weird huh?

    Our special teams need a makeover. Or should I say a cleanse. We need one more good PP line and one good P.K. line. Fix those first, then I think you’ll see a better version of this team.

    • Skylardog

      Brodie was our best PK defenseman last season. Kinda blows your mind.

      Some research and all of a sudden the glitter on the Czar is not as bright as it was just 2 nights ago. Surprise!

      • Off the wall

        Yah, I must admit Skylar, you had a better read on him then I did.

        I believe he’s a decent playmaker and could be a decent complement on the team.
        However, his special teams numbers aren’t good. I guess I’m a bit surprised myself.

        • Skylardog

          A 0.29 point per game guy. That’s puts him in the 23 point range for a whole season of 82 games. The problem is a 1.54 GF/60 on ice rate and a 2.36 GA.60. All this is what he did before this season. Even with Krejci he was just a 1.64 GF/60 guy. Not easy to have on ice numbers that low with playing with Krejci.

          1.54 is awful for a guy that is suppose to be an offensive threat. He is a 0.43 point/game player so far here. Does it feel like he has had any success so far? Yet he is putting up points at a higher rate than he did in Boston. And here I thought he wasn’t accomplishing much so far in a Flames jersey.

          Teams don’t let assets walk away.

          • Skylardog

            1-way freakin deal. Just eats at the pit of my stomach. With only 1.9 in cap space, the additional 1.25 Czar gets would help get a goalie to replace Smith. I’d rather see Gawdin in the lineup.

            Man this gets me angry and going. Am I ranting yet?

      • buts

        Because the PK is a zone defence. That’s why….5 on 5 TJ reaches with his stick and doesn’t hit anybody and loses puck battles. Poor decisions, lack of confidence. Sad really a great skater gone south.

        • Skylardog

          Rigid system and position with only one thing that he has to do if he gets the puck – fire it down the ice.

          5v5 he roams and has to think about where he moves the puck to. Usually makes a bad positional decision.

    • Hockeysense9393

      Again (like a lot of posters do get) quit trying to enter the zone with a back pass to one of the smallest guys in the league. Every team knows that JHockey is going to skate in late from the backpass. Might as well dump and chase with Gaudreau waiting on the point. Send 3 heavier players in for the rush on the puck. Cycle it to the point and you have some play making. Let the workers do the work…the playmakers, play… JHockey should essentially be invisible (forgettable) until he receives the puck. By then it’s too late? Why bother playing him the most visible and obvious when entering the zone? Let the PK focus on the puck and the 3 players fighting them for it.

      • Luter 1

        Dump and chase…..that would entail some hard work and getting our noses dirty, Nah this team is strictly no hit other than say Bennett who doesn’t get PP time

  • oilcanboyd

    Kristen Anderson
    7 hours ago

    #Flames lines today:

    #Flames pairings:

    • Skylardog

      Not quite what others are reporting. Janko was sitting, with Fro playing with Hath and Ryan.

      Andersson and Vali together. Looks like Val back in and Stone out along with Prout.

  • ZZMiddle

    I said a couple years ago fans would come to despise the John Greedough contract. I was hated on. A team CANNOT make a 1 trick pony the highest paid player on the team and expect it to turn out well. The man can dangle. Thats it. Dangle. No- hit, no battle, useless on the boards, cant forecheck, cant backcheck, muffin of a shot, just dangle. Then, lets sign Moneyhan to a huge contract. Can score from tight in front. ok. No-hit, no battle, useless on the boards, cant forecheck, cant backcheck, ok shot, just score on rebounds. SOFT . They made these guys the future, the core, and it was wrong. This team will never win as long as the 1 trick pony’s are the core.

    • HOCKEY83

      Your are out of your mind if you think under 7 mil per year are big contracts for Johnny and Monny. As i said in another post…as soon as johnny’s contract is up he’ll want no less than 10 mil per. the Flames will either trade him or lose him to free agency.

      • ZZMiddle

        Any team that would pay John 10 mil per season will lose. One trick pony dont win in playoffs. And if the last few weeks are any indication, one trick pony cant win enough to get there.