The Flames are keeping up their winning ways. In their first seven-game segment, they were 4-3-0. In their second, they improved to 4-2-1. For their third segment, they’ve stayed remarkably consistent, going back to the same record they had in the first – but could a recent goaltending change see even better times ahead?
All underlying numbers via Corsica.
Now at 12-8-1, the Flames have oscillated a bit through the season, but haven’t really hit any sustained low points. They have a .595 winning percentage through the season so far, down from their previous .607. It has them 11th in the NHL, fifth in the Western Conference, and first in the Pacific Division, all tied with the Sharks.
- Their goals for per game is 3.29, down from their earlier 3.36. They’re 10th overall in the NHL, third among Western Conference teams, and first in the Pacific Division.
- Their goals against per game is 2.95, improved from their previous 3.29. It’s tied for 14th in the NHL, eighth among Western Conference teams, and third in the Pacific Divison.
- Their goal differential is +6, up from zero. It has them ninth in the NHL, fifth among Western Conference teams, and first in the Pacific Division.
- Their powerplay is at 20.8%, up from their earlier 15.8%. It’s 14th in the NHL. They’re fifth in the Western Conference, and first in the Pacific Division.
- Their penalty kill is at 75.8%, up from their earlier 71.7%. It’s 24th in the NHL. They’re third last in the Western Conference, and second last in the Pacific Division.
- At 8:14 penalty minutes per game, they’ve reduced the number of infractions they’ve taken, down from 8:42 earlier. The Flames are 23rd in most penalties in the NHL. They’ve taken the fifth fewest penalties per game in the Western Conference, and second fewest among Pacific Division teams.
- Their 5v5 CF/60 is 63.65, a little up from their previous 62.88. It’s the fourth highest in the NHL, and third among Western Conference and Pacific Divison teams.
- Their 5v5 CA/60 is 52.45 down from their previous 54.06. It’s the third lowest in the NHL, and second lowest among Western Conference and Pacific Division teams.
- Their 5v5 CF is 54.82%, up from their earlier 53.77%. It’s fourth highest in the NHL, and third among Western Conference and Pacific Division teams.
- Their 5v5 shooting percentage is 7.44%, down from 8.68%. It’s 20th in the NHL.
- Their 5v5 save percentage is 91.56%, up a little from 91.45%. It’s 21st in the NHL.
- Their PDO is 99.00, down from 100.13. It’s 24th in the NHL.
So, what’s changed?
The Flames appear to be stronger defensively. They’ve given up fewer goals per game by a noticeable amount, and their defence – or at least their ability to take away shooting chances from the opposition, in terms of corsi against – has improved by quite a fair bit. Their save percentage has held fairly steady, though. It’s probably notable Mike Smith only started three games of this seven-game set (the three losses), and David Rittich had four (the four wins).
On the flip side, though the Flames are still a top scoring team, they’re scoring a little less. There may not be any cause for concern, though: their shooting percentage has dropped a fair bit, as has their PDO with it, but they’re still creating shot attempts and they are still scoring. If their offensive numbers bounce back while their defensive ones stay intact, watch out.
First, the forwards (all situations, ordered by ice time).
Game scores courtesy of our very own Ryan Pike: 0.950 and above is considered great; 0.450-0.950 good; 0.150-0.450 fine; -0.150-0.150 bad; under -0.150 awful.
By being trusted to take a top role in all situations, Elias Lindholm is really reaping the rewards of the spotlight: there’s no area he’s struggling in. That he’s a penalty killer is what sets him apart from Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Matthew Tkachuk: all of whom have slightly better numbers, but greater zone starts accompanying them, as well. (Mikael Backlund falls into the same Lindholm trap with being asked to take less of an offensive role, but he’s still performing well, too.)
The Flames’ top players – Gaudreau, Monahan, Tkachuk, and Lindholm – are all outstanding at a way that’s honestly hard to describe; they’re just phenomenal. (Though we should be wary of Lindholm, Tkachuk, and possibly Monahan’s shooting percentages.) Tkachuk probably deserves even more ice time.
Backlund is just a cut below the Flames’ top group, but he’s having a great season as well.
And then there’s everyone else, kind of. Though the points aren’t exactly coming quite yet, Sam Bennett’s game is improving. Derek Ryan’s is as well, though not at the same rate, but he does play a more defensive role, as does Mark Jankowski. Michael Frolik is playing a steady, if unspectacular game.
Garnet Hathaway should probably be sat for Austin Czarnik, as not only is Hathaway the worst among the Flames’ regular forwards, but Czarnik’s numbers really don’t indicate he deserves to sit so often, and Hathaway’s shooting percentage is definitely going to come down (he and Jankowski are the only forwards with a sub-50% corsi, but he does have that elevated goals for percentage – though it’s debatable if that’s sustainable).
Probably the biggest concern here is James Neal. He hasn’t been outright bad, just unspectacular. But for a player of his caliber, he really needs to get going, and we’re fast running out of excuses. One good one in his case, though? That shooting percentage is atrocious – and hopefully it doesn’t stay that way all season. He’s a career 11.9% shooter; there’s no way he’s actually this bad. But he does need to put in the work to prove it.
The Flames’ most common line combinations at 5v5 have been:
Bennett alongside Backlund and Tkachuk is starting to creep up there, though – as is Bennett alongside Jankowski and Neal.
Fun fact: that Monahan line is the fourth most played line across the entire NHL.
Now, the defence (all situations, ordered by ice time):
The defence continues to run through Mark Giordano, though he’s getting some help. TJ Brodie has been steadily finding his game again alongside him.
But perhaps the bigger story at this stage is how much Travis Hamonic’s return is helping the team – and maybe even Noah Hanifin specifically, who appears much improved over this seven-game segment. It could be Hamonic – who is looking overall great out there – or it could be Hanifin settling into his new team and continuing to improve (as he’s still only 21 years old, which is easy to forget considering how long he’s been in the league) – or both. Either way, things are looking better for the Flames’ top four, and they’re probably a big factor behind the team’s improved defensive numbers.
The rookies are continuing to settle in as well. Michael Stone doesn’t really appear to have a place on this team anymore, unless someone gets injured.
And finally, goalies (all situations):
As Rittich has gotten more ice time, his numbers have fallen a bit, but not all that much. Though Smith’s numbers actually did improve a little, he remains the only Flame with a negative game score; while he performed admirably in one of the three starts he got during this seven-game stretch, he arguably cost the Flames four points mostly on his own in the other two.
Right now, Rittich is the better goalie, and it’s not even close. That he got more starts in this stretch might be a sign that they’re going to keep coming. And the way things are going – for both the short and the long term – that’s the right call.