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|
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.
MAINSTAYS STILL GETTING IT DONE
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.
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.
|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.