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Flames in seven games: 4-3-0 in season’s third segment

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.

Team stats

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.

Player stats

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.

Player TOI Goals Points P/60 SH% CF% GF% ZSR Game score
Lindholm 434.98 11 22 3.03 21.15 58.18 57.38 57.46 +1.149
Gaudreau 429.80 7 24 3.35 11.29 61.50 63.16 68.59 +1.267
Monahan 420.25 12 24 3.43 19.35 60.07 62.07 69.62 +1.267
Backlund 385.03 3 11 1.71 5.56 57.32 51.22 50.17 +0.803
Tkachuk 370.78 11 25 4.05 22.92 63.68 64.00 68.12 +1.240
Neal 326.28 2 3 0.55 3.85 57.71 45.83 60.20 +0.372
Bennett 273.55 3 6 1.32 7.89 55.87 52.17 59.87 +0.529
Ryan 260.25 2 5 1.15 10.00 55.13 45.00 48.39 +0.395
Frolik 242.42 7 7 1.73 18.92 51.49 45.45 55.04 +0.568
Jankowski 186.55 1 3 0.96 4.55 46.15 41.67 47.06 +0.236
Dube 166.45 0 2 0.72 0 50.00 50.00 53.76 +0.222
Hathaway 157.02 2 2 0.76 16.67 46.64 62.50 45.83 +0.181
Czarnik 140.38 1 4 1.71 5.00 60.51 40.00 56.98 +0.559
Peulso 13.98 0 0 0 0 52.17 n/a 25.00 +0.042

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:

Gaudreau Monahan Lindholm
Tkachuk Backlund Frolik
Tkachuk Backlund Neal

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):

Player TOI Goals Points P/60 SH% CF% GF% ZSR Game score
Giordano 512.77 2 20 2.34 3.17 57.37 60.94 54.93 +1.149
Brodie 451.42 1 6 0.80 3.57 52.44 56.10 53.80 +0.569
Hanifin 425.37 0 8 1.13 0 55.41 48.65 49.81 +0.544
Valimaki 300.35 1 2 0.40 4.55 49.63 33.33 62.75 +0.223
Andersson 282.92 0 1 0.21 0 50.77 52.38 57.14 +0.274
Hamonic 256.65 2 5 1.17 6.25 54.16 44.83 44.44 +0.899
Stone 176.30 0 4 1.36 0 47.63 35.00 50.00 +0.364
Prout 13.75 0 0 0 0 60.00 33.33 50.00 +0.225

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):

Player TOI SV% ldSV% mdSV% hdSV% Game score
Smith 723.72 87.57 94.78 87.16 77.89 -0.146
Rittich 528.68 93.12 96.91 93.33 86.67 +1.025

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.

      • Sobueno

        The ultimate pest – pisses off the other team, draws penalties, then makes them pay on the scoreboard. It’s insult to injury. Definitely the kind of guy you hate to play against, love to have on the team.

    • oilcanboyd

      Aren’t they going gaga over the firing of McLellan and the hiring of the Fat Man?? IMO Katz should have tied the can to Chia first and let the new GM hire his coaches. I guess Chia convinced Katz they have the players to make the playoffs… After McD, Draisaitl and Hopkins the scoring falls to 9 points with Chia’s son. Whereas the Flames have 5 players with 20 or more points! Chia dumped good players and got almost zero in return.

      • The Doctor

        I’m conflicted a bit, because I have a lot of time for Hitchcock. Now this is the first time in my life I actively want Hitch to fail! I agree with the observers who have said that Chiarelli just fired his last bullet with this one.

  • KKisTHEproblem

    I have no idea how much work it is to put those numbers together, so, thanks for whatever amount of work it is Ari! If its a matter of putting the parameters into a database, I’d be very interested in seeing some comparisons across either prominent nhl’ers or the league. For example, where does Gio rank for Dmen? How do our top forwards with the excellent game scores compare to other top fwds? I’d welcome an article on that if any of the writers are so inclined? Cheers and thanks for all your work

    • Skylardog

      One of the great difficulties in putting an article like this together is that you can write the article, but every day the stats change. Stats are moving targets that can impact the article and make what was written only 24 hours earlier irrelevant and out of date. This becomes even harder when referencing stats to other teams or the NHL as a whole. Ari has an amazing way of making it work though, and just before the article is released you go through and update the stats with the very latest info. Quite the process.

  • Baalzamon

    That high-danger sv% for Rittich is starting to look like a real number again, which is actually a good sign in terms of sustainable numbers and such. Stopping over 90% of the high-danger shots is bonkers, and something I’m fairly certain no one has done over a full season (at least, not since like… Hasek).

    • Mort

      Agreed. The hype train for Rittich is fun, but we need to consider the fact that he probably hasn’t just become a god overnight. While he undoubtedly made improvements since last season, we shouldn’t expect him to sustain his fantastic performance.

      I’m not writing him off though. If he ends the season with a .920 SV% I would be very happy. This team doesn’t need godlike goaltending to reach the playoffs, it just needs competent goaltending. If Rittich can maintain his great performance, that easily makes us a strong Cup contender. If he regresses to simply being “good,” we’ll still be contenders, but obviously a lot hinges on Rittich’s performance.

  • The Doctor

    If you watch the goals we scored last night, a good number of them are preceded and set up via quick lateral or cross-ice passes. We made the goalie move and have to move. That’s typically what elite scoring teams do, so in that sense it’s a very good sign. And it’s something we were not doing under Gulutzan, instead we were way too static and predictable a lot of the time.

  • FlamesFan27

    “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).” – I think they might be onto something!

  • Toofun

    Great article with tons of information and stats, so its surprising that I want to talk about Dube – a guy who’s name only showed up once and it was in the “Player Stats” section along with all of the other forwards.

    So Dube, I like him, I like what he brings to the team, I keep cheering for him to score, I flinch everytime he gets hit in the head and I want to send him back down to the AHL…

    Call me crazy but I’m not sure I want to keep sitting Czarnik and playing Dube when we seem to have the luxury right now to send him down and let him develop a bit more before bringing him back next year, or even this year if there is an injury and we need to.

    Call it player development or cap management or just an abudance of forward depth or whatever you want but let’s do this and do it now while it’s a positive motivational move.

      • withachance

        BP has also alluded to it in his interviews too. Really think it’s time. I’ve been liking Hathway’s play through the eye-test, and think we can afford to give up a little possession numbers to have him in the lineup full time to give the team a little bit of the snarl

  • Oyo

    4-3 doesnt look too good and if you were only looking at that number, it would show that we are playing only “okay” hockey. BUT if it wasn’t for some lackluster goal-tending in Anaheim and Montreal, that stat line would have easily read 6-1.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    If I were ex-Stampeder and current CFL Commissioner big Randy Ambrosie, I’d bench press Cia and throttle Katz for the timing of this firing because anything that draws attention away from Edmonton hosting the Grey Cup is a definite negative. Anything that causes the flock of reporters to turn their attention to the Oilers at the expense of the Grey Cup is bad for the CFL. Don’t think Hitch was itching to coach elsewhere, so it wasn’t a case of you snooze you lose if he wasn’t hired ASAP. Attacking the CFL when the showcase in your backyard. Like we needed more proof of how bush the Oilers are.

    • Stu Gotz

      I get what your saying but the impact to the CFL will be minimal. Majority of seats sales are Calgary/Ottawa fans. Sponsors and advertisers are already on board. TSN ratings will huge as usual. The game is going to make a big profit as it always does….again good post!

    • oilcanboyd

      The team losing 6 out of their 7 last games had a lot to do with his firing! only win was against the Habs second string goalie. McLellan kept on playing his goons in the third period while Peters went with three lines to try and win said a lot to Katz about oilers losing interest in winning that game. And of course the debacle against the LVK one of the worst teams in the NHL these days…

  • withachance

    I still think the lines need to be split up to get Neal and to a lesser extent Benny going. Doubt it will happen but eventually the team is going to need these two guys to contribute not consistently, but just around 40-50 points each this season. It’s ok if they come in bursts just as long as they happen.

    JG – Lindy – Neal
    Tkachuk – Monahan – Benny
    Dube – Backs – Czar
    Frolik – Janko – Ryan

    The bottom 6 is just so blender-able isnt it? Also Hathaway comes in for Dube/Czarnik against heavier teams

    • oilcanboyd

      My eyes glaze over every time I see suggestions for lines. The person in charge – Peters – makes the decisions and I doubt that he reads FN and says, “Oh, wow. I never thought of that!”

      Anyone who watched last night’s display of talent from the JG-Monny-Lindy line would disagree with you whole heartedly. We finally have an explosive RW for JG-Mony and you wish to destroy it??

      • withachance

        Perhaps you shouldnt reply to comments you just glaze over? I said “i doubt it’ll happen…” because the team’s playing well, but I still wanted to express my opinion and have some fun on a FAN BLOG. Is that ok with you? or is that too much to ask on the Internet??

      • cberg

        I agree with you completely, especially since the team is overall playing quite well, is at or near the top of the Division standings and certain things are doing great, like that top line.

        Sure guys like to ruminate and provide some input, but really, what’s the problem with success? I put it down mostly to many people having too much time on their hands and nothing better to do. What’s this blog going to look like if the Flames start to really stumble?

    • herringchoker

      In my humble opinion its time to send Dube down to the AHL. I also wouldn’t split Monny and Johnny. I agree with putting Neal on the top line for awile to try and get him going. I would put Lindy between Tkachuk and Benny and then blender the rest.

  • Greg

    By my math, the difference in Rittich’s and smith’s save percentage would mean 18 fewer goals against. That’s a crazy number for 1/4 of a season, especially since smith only started 13 times. 1.5 goals less per game!

    IIRC, it’s roughly 6 goals per win/loss, so add three wins to the flames, 18 goals to their goal differential and… oh look, they are in the top 3-5 teams in the league!

    Don’t know if either guys numbers will stay where they are, but until it changes Rittich should be starting 80% of the games.

  • Sven

    Harping upon the obvious

    Smith is horrible-

    The 575 minutes he has spent in net this year has cost us 7.3 goals that an average NHL goalie would have been expected to save
    (3rd worst of all NHL goalies)
    .
    .
    Rittich is very good-

    The 421 minutes he has spent in net this year has saved us 7.7 goals that an average NHL goalie would have been expected to let in
    (3rd best of all NHL goalies)
    .
    If Smith was replaced by an average goaltender during his starts Calgarys goal differential improves by over 7

    If Smith is replaced by an above average goal tender (such as Rittich) our goal could improve , in theory, by up to 10

    This switch would take us from a 9th in the league goal differential into the top 3 (Behind Nashville and Toronto)


    the good news is that this is becoming public knowledge
    .
    but w-t-f re Czarnik?

  • everton fc

    We need a 3C. The candidates:

    Ryan
    Jankowski
    Dube
    Czarnik

    I don’t see Peters breaking up the first and second lines. Nor should he. They are exploding w/confidence. Leave them be.

    I’ve always seen Ryan as a 4C here. Stajan’s replacement. And an adequate one. But he’s not a 3C – not like the 3C we need. We need a 3C who can provide offence. This is not Ryan.

    Nor does it appear to be Jankowski, who some, myself included, fear is the next Joe Colborne (Joe’s currently still out of hockey. Sad). Jankowski has not proven he can score this season, nor does he use his body affectively. He’s not the answer, at this time.

    Nor is Czarnik, who doesn’t play a 200 foot game. Czarnik is, at best, a 4th line wing. Or a tweener. I hope I am wrong, and we shall see.

    Dube is the next one to consider. Could Frolik-Dube-Neal put some points on the board, with a 4th line of Hathaway-Jankowski-Ryan? I’m not yet convinced. But I’d like to see Dube get a few games as 3C, with Frolik and Neal.

    Truth is, we are thin, when it comes to a 3C. The right 3C will possibly get Neal going. Possibly.

    I also find myself wondering these days, if Lazar might be able to help us… ?

  • Jimmyhaggis

    Smith cost us a few points, the team wasn’t as sharp as they could have been. If Rittich is the new messiah, and Neil can gind his scoring touch, the future looks bright.

  • FlamesFan27

    ON is so much fun to read these days! I was on vacation and spent the drive home from the airport yesterday listening to TSN 1260 in Edmonton, and that was so much fun too!

  • Jourflamesfan

    Re: Edmonton oilers

    Ken Hitchcock hire.

    “And Connor McDavid and Darnell Nurse will fit in. Gimme a glass of wine or a beer, and I think in two years they win the Cup. That may be a little eager, but I don’t think more than four”
    ????