Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Flames make up for sloppy second periods with tremendous thirds

Synonymous with Calgary weather, the Flames had an inconsistent October. The opening month of the 2018-19 season featured the highest of highs, like beating the Vancouver Canucks in the home opener, and the lowest of lows, like the crushing 9-1 defeat on home ice to the Pittsburgh Penguins. After adding several new key pieces this offseason, including a new bench boss, this is still very much a team finding itself.

The jury still isn’t out on whether this version of the Flames will end up being as good as it looks on paper, and despite the season still being young, there are a few trends that have emerged. To their credit, the Flames have seemingly turned the corner in terms of resiliency. Last year, there was almost no hope for the team once they faced any kind of setback. In the face of adversity, Glen Gulutzan’s Flames would crumble. Bill Peters’ Flames, however, have demonstrated a refreshing ability to rebound from deficits and mount comebacks. That being said, this year’s Flames have more often than not come out of the gate flatfooted. They haven’t really started games out strong, and their slow starts have required good third periods to compensate.

One of the most interesting statistics from last season’s Flames is how shockingly awful they were in the third period. In the 2017-18 season, the Flames ranked dead last in goals scored in the third. For perspective, only three of the 16 playoff teams were in the bottom half of the league in third period goals. It’s an important metric, and good teams, successful teams, are ones that you can never count of of hockey games, regardless of the score.

In comparison to last season, the Flames really have done a better job at finishing games strong. It’s not surprising that their splits this season are starkly different.

First period

Season Goals For Goals Against
Total Percent League Rank Total Percent League Rank
2017-18 64 30% 22 68 28% 13
2018-19 12 29% 7 15 37% 30

One area of significant improvement so far this year is the Flames’ ability to score in the opening frame, currently ranked seventh in the league for goals scored in the first period. They’re still hovering around 30% of their total goals scored in the first, but the overall number relative to the rest of the league has dramatically increased.

It’s no secret that this year’s Flames are more prolific at scoring in general, but what is concerning at this point is their goals allowed. Where they have improved from 22nd in goals for last year to seventh so far this year, they have regressed from 13th in goals against last year to 30th this year.

The Flames might be scoring more in the first, but relative to the league, they’re allowing many more goals as well. It’s not a recipe for success to be outscored in any period, but getting the first lead of the game has historically proven to be important in winning. The Flames definitely need to clean up their play in the first, and start their games with the kind of jump we see from them as the game goes on.

Elias Lindholm leads the Flames with four first period goals this year, followed by Johnny Gaudreau and Michael Frolik with two each.

Second period

Season Goals For Goals Against
Total Percent League Rank Total Percent League Rank
2017-18 84 39% 13 84 35% 19
2018-19 7 17% 30 16 39% 28

The second period was definitely the Flames’ best last season, but this year it’s the exact opposite. The Flames are 30th in goals scored and 28th in goals allowed in the middle frame through the opening month of the season, and this is easily the most glaring problem in terms of period splits. They have scored just seven goals in the second period so far, and have allowed nearly 30% more.

This is the period that teams do the most damage against the Flames and seems to be where the team breaks down. It’s always tough coming back onto the ice after an intermission and having to deal with the long change in the second period, but if the Flames are to start being more consistent through 60 minutes of play, that has to start with sticking to their game in the second period.

Gaudreau leads the team with two second period goals, while five players are tied for second with just one each.

Third period

Season Goals For Goals Against
Total Percent League Rank Total Percent League Rank
2017-18 61 28% 31 86 35% 19
2018-19 20 49% 1 10 24% 10

Fortunately, the Flames have managed to offset their brutal second periods with magnificent thirds. After finishing last season 31st in goals for, the Flames are sitting in first place so far this season. They’ve scored almost half of their total goals this year in the third period, though two of their 20 were empty netters.

Defensively it’s more of the same. The Flames have allowed the 10th fewest goals in the third through October, up from 19th last year. Just 24% of their total allowed goals have come in the final frame, and it’s paying dividends.

They actually lead the league with three wins after trailing entering the third period, and are tied for the fourth best winning percentage when trailing after 40 minutes. This is a clear indication of the resiliency Peters’ Flames has shown over Gulutzan’s. They haven’t taken their foot off the gas in the third and it’s led to some really exciting Flames games this year.

Once again, Lindholm leads the Flames with four third period goals. Matthew Tkachuk and Sean Monahan are tied for second with three each.


Season Goals For Goals Against
Total Percent League Rank Total Percent League Rank
2017-18 7 3% 9 5 2% 13
2018-19 2 5% 7 0 0% 1

The overtime period, especially since it switched over to 3-on-3, has been owned by Gaudreau. He has always been electric in overtime, and this year is no different. The Flames are first in goals against with zero allowed, and are seventh in goals for with two. They are currently 2-0 in overtime with Gaudreau scoring both winning goals.

In the end

The Flames are a much improved offensive team this year. They are on pace to score 259 goals, 43 more than they scored last year. They are one of the best teams in the league in the third period and can never be counted out of games they are trailing in.

Their first periods have been strong in terms of goal scoring, but they’ve done a poor job keeping pucks out of their net in the first. The most concerning area is the second period where they are one of the worst teams in the league for both scoring and allowing goals in the middle frame.

All in all, the Flames are an improved team and, when they decide to play strong team defense, rival even the best teams in the league. Going forward, it’s all about keeping things together for a full 60.

  • Squishin

    Nice article. It’s refreshing to see goals broken down by period like that.
    The Flames definitely need better opening and middle frames if they hope to seriously contend. It seems as though if the goalie doesn’t stand on his head early, the Flames don’t stand a chance in the first few minutes.

  • freethe flames

    Yet when you watch the games it always seems that the Flames struggle at the start of the game; how often do they give up huge scoring chances early in the game and the start of the periods only to settle down after the first 5 minutes are so. If the goalies stand on their heads early the team usually gets out of it’s funk and rallies around them; if as had happened a few times already the goalie struggles at the start then the team finds itself unable to recover.

  • Off the wall

    1.The winning percentage of teams that scored first and second is 80%

    2.The winning percentage of a team that scored first but not second is 50%

    3.The winning percentage of a team that scored second but not first is 50%

    4.The winning percentage of a team that did not score first and second is 20%

    Analysis: Score the first goal. Teams that score FIRST win 67% of the games. That’s 2/3. I like that ratio.

    We can’t expect to be the comeback kids of 2014-15. It was exciting hockey to watch, however we saw what happened the following year?!

    • cjc

      Scoring first matters, insofar as scoring goals matters. A thought experiment can explain this. Imagine two teams, that both score 3.25 goals/game for and average 3.00 goals/game against. They will probably end up with similar records at the end of the season, regardless if one scores first more often than the other.

      Another way to think of it is this: Would you rather be the team that averages 3.25 GF/game and 3.00 GA/game and always scores first, or would you rather be the team that averages 3.5 GF/game and 3.00 GA/game, but more often than not allows the first goal.

      Scoring the first goal does not afford a team any particular advantage (if anything, it makes the other team more aggressive because they are playing catch up). What it does mean is that, after 60 minutes, you will have n+1 goals instead of n.

      You are right that 2014-2015 wasn’t sustainable, but that manifested itself as a high shooting percentage (plus a goalie who outplayed his career averages). The come from behind wins were a by-product of unsustainably high percentages. A team could have been equally lucky and unsustainable, but see their leads built in the front end of hockey games.

      • Skylardog

        Which scare me. We have scored 3 empty netters, and have 3 goals scored with our goalie pulled. I think, but can’t remember it, that we have an empty netter against. What happens when this begins to average out?

        • cjc

          I don’t think it is too big of a worry going forward. Just because the numbers of goals scored in those situations has been high, it doesn’t mean that the team has to be equally unlucky going forward for things to balance out.

          It’s best to think of it this way: Say a team is shooting 10%, when other metrics (xGF%, HDCF%, player career averages) suggest the team should be shooting in the 8% range. That doesn’t mean that going forward the team is going to shoot 6%, it means that they can probably expect to shoot 8%, which is lower than their current rate.

          So the problem would arise if teams thought they could reliably score empty netters or get goals with the extra attacker, or if they looked at their overall numbers without considering that context. We’re still only 13 games in, so it’s hard to know where any team stands, let alone one with results as inconsistent as Calgary’s so far. As you point out below, it’s concerning that we aren’t seeing increased production from the bottom 6, but at the same time it’s too early to say these are the Comeback Kids from 2014-2015, or that the recent spate of comebacks is more than just statistical noise.

      • oilcanboyd

        “it makes the other team more aggressive because they are playing catch up”, therefore it is tougher to play catch up, for maybe the whole game and this tires your team out. Do this a whole season….even just tonight’s game against a rested team.

        • cjc

          But isn’t it just as tiring to defend against a team that is playing aggressively? I mean, maybe if you are playing catch up it means you need to take more chances, so the team in the lead can afford to be patient and opportunistic. But if they just sit back on their heels, that team will likely pay for it.

  • Skylardog

    Added depth up front, but the concerns of scoring from players that are not in the top 6 is worse this year than last year. All numbers are 5v5.

    Last season:
    Top 6 goals scored = 79, 54%
    Other Forwards = 44, 30%
    Defensemen = 24, 16%
    Total goals for: 147

    This season:
    Top 6 goals scored = 14, 58% – trends for 88
    Other Forwards = 7, 29% – trends for 44
    Defensemen = 3, 13% – trends for 19
    Total goals for: 151

    At least the bottom 6 are trending to score as many as goals as last season and not less at 5v5. But that was not what was supposed to happen with the changes made in the summer. We also knew that the D would score less without Hamilton. But to have the top 2 lines actually scoring a bigger portion than they did last season is not going to make this team successful over the full season.

    At all strengths, it get even worse. Only Czars empty netter comes from the bottom 6 or the defense, other than that – nothing. That includes 6on5s, 5on6s, PKs, PP, 4on4 and 3on3.

    Eight goals from the bottom 6 after 13 games is just ridiculous, and that is in all situations, including the PP.

    For reference, I used Mony, JG, Ferly, Backs, Fro, and Tkachuk as top 6 last year, and substituted Lind for Ferly this year. All of Froliks 5v5 goals came while on the ice with Backs, so that is a fair assessment this season.

    • MWflames

      Interesting to think about it like this. I wouldn’t dwell on this too much, i think the bottom 6 is getting looks, they’ll start contributing soon. If one or two of bennett’s posts go in, it changes the projections quite a bit. Dube has had some good looks too. Neal will start scoring etc…

      Points aside, the bottom 6 appears to be playing meaningful minutes this year as in they’re applying way more pressure, better cycle and possession, less defensive time and getting hemmed in their own zone etc… i think that is one the biggest differences this year from probably the last decade of flames teams. Rolling 4 lines that can play and aren’t huge liabilities will be great down the stretch and in the playoffs where fatigue sets in. When the flames get up in a game, they can roll their depth more.

      Lets see where this is at in another 10 games or so. Also, would be interesting to see TOI splits for top vs bottom this year vs last.

      • Skylardog

        I agree with you, but will point out that the comment on chances will go in, the bottom 6 had their chances and didn’t bury them. That also sounds exactly like last year.

    • MWflames

      Also, article says we’re on pace to score 259 goals. Your 5v5 numbers provide a pace for 151. i don’t think PP, PK and OT make up the other 108 goals, so i’d say there is definitely some discrepancy here.

      • Skylardog

        6 goals with the goalie pulled (3 empty net and 3 to tie), 2 at 3on3, one on PK, 8 on the PP. That’s 17, trends to 107 scored not at 5v5, for the season. That’s 258 total.

    • oilcanboyd

      Interesting, but do this again after 20 games. Still dealing with new coaches, new systems, new players, wonky east-west scheduling for the Flames with not much time available for practising, especially for special teams. Your top flight skilled players can adjust much easier…

  • Off the wall

    What’s the percentage of winning when the Flames wear the 3rd jersey’s at home?

    Maybe we should be allowed to wear them full time? It’s too bad we are only guaranteed 12 Wins!?

  • cjc

    I have a theory that as the total amount of offense in the league increases, the importance of scoring first will decrease. We’re coming out of a time where goals were hard to come by, and so that first goal would represent a large chunk of total scoring in a game. Now that more goals are being scored, it’s becoming easier to overcome a one goal deficit.

  • Chucky

    Good that the picture is from this year.

    Even the really bad game was 3,4 ,2.

    Having the lead results in empty net goals so better teams often extend that lead in the third. However this year the Flames have managed a couple of goals with their net empty it is great that they are not giving up when behind, pure coaching impact.
    The next area that needs to be improved is grit and determination. On that front Anderson and Valimaki are an improvement on Hamilton and Kulak but Ryan, Czarnik, Neal and Lindholm are not there with Stajan, Lazar, Brouwer and Ferland. Peters needs to find a way to get these guys finishing their checks.

    • cjc

      “Even the really bad game was 3,4 ,2”

      Yeah, but that one game is really skewing the table above.

      No way that Andersson is an improvement on Hamilton. He hasn’t even been asked to fill those shoes, so it’s not a fair comparison to make. Despite getting a few looks with Gio, Andersson is primarily getting bottom pair minutes and competition. It’s really Brodie that is getting Hamilton’s role, and I don’t think there is any area where you can say Brodie has been better.

      Andersson is an improvement on Stone (who has sat games already) and Valimaki has had a similar impact to Kulak (but is 3 years younger and much more upside).

      Ryan=Stajan at this point, slightly cheaper but still too expensive.
      Czarnik>>Lazar, does not get killed in possession and is scoring at a better rate.
      Neal>Brouwer, but needs to translate his chances into results.
      Lindholm=Ferland, at least based on the results each has been putting up with their new teams.

      • Chucky

        If you don’t think that Anderson adds more grit than Hamilton then you have not seen at least one of them play. Hamilton is a total cream puff and Anderson lays some big hits. Hard not to notice the difference.
        But then you did not read my post because it is about grit and determination not an overall assessment.

  • Garry T

    I did not see an issue as regards to a slow start in the last two games. What I saw was some tremendous goaltending and fairly even play in that first critical five minutes. Hey, you both want a good start as a team and both goaltenders were into the game right away.

    To achieve the quicker of the starts between your two teams, your first and second lines should be double shifted and
    the centers have to have a goal of winning 100 percent of the faceoffs in that first six to eight minutes of the game.
    Controlling the puck means you are in the other guy’s end and flash points will occur if you are putting that kind of pressure on. In the interim your third and fourth lines are into the game right away as the bar has been set. I think controlling that first 4-6 or 8 minutes is critical. I think the new edition of the Calgary Flames is capable of that.

  • Off the wall

    I have a solution. Simple math.

    Peter’s should have a math class for all of our players.

    Eg: Forwards: The optimum goal scoring angle is 40 degrees, that’s from the centre of the ice facing the goalie- from an average of 20 feet out. Taking shots from the dot area decreases the angle from 40, to 15 degrees. Johnny attempts this almost every game. Trying to beat the goalie high. Johnny went to college, he should know?

    The average player covers 30.4 feet per second at full speed. Yah, we’re not including McDavid for obvious reasons.

    If a players top speed is 30.47 feet per second, and it takes him 1.5 seconds to reach this, the average acceleration would be 20.3, as 30.47/1.5=20.3 feet per second. This means that every second the player is increasing his speed by 20.3 feet per second, until he reaches his maximum speed, which would take 1.5 seconds to reach. This is extremely important as speed is a major component to hockey, and beating your opponent -allows you to get the best angle to the net, which increases the chances of scoring.

    Simple math. Keep your feet moving. Gliding doesn’t increase speed.

    Goalies: Angles. A goalie must decrease the players angle by being as far away from the goal line and square towards the shooter, as possible. In order to do this, the goaltender must challenge the shooter and take away his time and space. A player taking a shot at 40 degrees, increases his chances of scoring if the goalie is deep in the net. It gives him 12 degrees of sight. If the goalie comes out to the hash marks it decreases the angle to HALF- that’s right- 6 degrees.
    A puck shot at 85 mph 20 feet out, gives a goalie.16 of a second to react. 1/16 of a second!

    5280 feet= 1 mile. 3600 seconds= 1 hour, so 85 x 5280= 448,800 feet per hour. 448,800/3600= 124.66 feet per second. Then, 20 feet/ 124.66=.16 seconds. (For the math nerds)

    In addition, how high the puck can be elevated by the time it hits the goalie is reduced, which makes it easier for the puck to be saved! Simple vertical math.
    Smitty, decrease the shooters angle. You’re not fast enough to be deep in net. Sorry

    There you have it. Math 101 for hockey players..

    • Chucky

      Goalies could do with an understanding that the free area of the net a shooter can see increases the likelihood of scoring. So when the shooter is between the faceoff dot and the goal line a goaltender standing and hugging the post is highly likely to stop the shot. Of course the likelihood goes down if the goaltender is short OR ON HIS KNEES!

    • cberg

      Math-Extra Credit

      With the puck travelling 125’/sec, once Gaudreau wheels to the face-off dot, dragging the D and goalie with him, to positions far to the side of the net, he is able to fire a 40’ pass to a teammate in the slot on the “other” side of the net who then one-times it into the empty net from 10’ out since it takes the goalie at least a half second to respond and move across the crease and reset.

  • MDG1600

    While interesting these sort of stats don’t mean much to me – they are the result of doing other things well (or poorly) and not the cause of wins or losses. You want a stat that truly impacts wins and losses? Look at special teams. We are currently 23rd on PP and 24th on PK. If that is where the Flames finish the regular season there is a pretty good chance we finish the season outside the playoffs.

  • Jessemadnote

    These numbers are completely thrown for a loop thanks to the 9-1 loss though. Take out the 3 goals in period 1 and the 4 goals in period 2 of the Penguins game and the Flames are at league average for both categories. Way too early to start identifying trends this minute IMO.

  • The Beej

    Like the optomistic tone in the conclusion.

    So if they bring it for 60 night in night out like they are supposed to, it points to good things in the near future.

    I feel like we kinda got a peek at that this last road trip.