55Mark Jankowski
Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

Calgary’s playoff path blessed thanks to bad Pacific Division

Have you looked at the Pacific Division lately? If not, you might want to take a closer look at the NHL’s worst grouping of teams. If things continue the way they’ve started, this could be the worst showing from any division since the league switched to its current alignment for the 2013-14 season.

There’s a silver lining though: if you’re one of the few good teams in the Pacific, the road to the postseason is far less difficult than it would be in anywhere else. There’s reason to believe the Flames are one of those good teams, both on paper and with how they’ve played over the last month. As such, it’ll truly be a failure if Calgary misses the playoffs in this division. Conversely, though, the door is wide open for home ice in the playoffs and a favourable matchup or two once they’re there.

As of today, Nov. 27, that’s how the Pacific Division stacks up ordered by win percentage. Only the Flames and Sharks sit above .500, which also puts those two as the only teams in the league’s top 15. We’re only a quarter of the way through the season so there’s time for improvement, but very few teams in the Pacific are trending in the right direction. Let’s take a closer look at how the eight teams stack up with the rest of the league.

STATISITICALLY

While underlying numbers are never iron clad, they’re the best way to evaluate, and thus predict, overall team success. While there are outliers every season, it’s generally never bad to have strong possession and scoring chance rates. In the Pacific, there’s a clear separation between three teams and the rest of the pack, as illustrated by looking at five-on-five outputs (scoring chance data courtesy Natural Stat Trick).

Team GP CF% Rank HDCF% Rank
San Jose 24 55.4 2nd 54.5 6th
Vegas 25 55.4 3rd 54.8 4th
Calgary 24 53.7 4th 49.4 19th
Arizona 22 50.8 13th 46.7 25th
Edmonton 23 50.3 15th 50.1 17th
Los Angeles 23 50.1 17th 50.9 14th
Vancouver 26 47.0 26th 44.8 27th
Anaheim 25 44.3 30th 41.4 31st

The Flames, Sharks, and Golden Knights are all top five teams in the possession department, which is a sizeable part of the battle. The other important indicator is scoring chances, which is an area both San Jose and Vegas are also thriving. Conspicuously further down the list is Calgary, which is somewhat of a red herring.

Despite strong possession metrics, the Flames were absolutely horrid defensively through their first 10 games, which brings their high danger percentage down significantly. However, since the team’s debacle 9-1 loss to Pittsburgh on Oct. 25, Calgary’s high danger scoring chance rate sits at 53.8%, which puts them sixth overall. The Flames have seemingly turned a corner defensively, which puts things far more in line with their impressive shot rate.

Across the board, though, the rest of the division is very average at best or, in the case of Anaheim and Vancouver, downright horrible. The correlation between underlying numbers and the standings is off through one quarter of the season, and a big reason for that comes down to the great equalizer…

GOALTENDING

For the most part, Pacific Division goaltending has been underwhelming, which is why teams like the Flames, Golden Knights, and Sharks aren’t competing further up the standings. The one outlier is in Anaheim, as their goalies are the sole reason they’re not hanging out with the Kings in the NHL’s cellar. The evidence is team save percentage numbers, both overall and at even strength.

Team SV% Rank EVSV% Rank
Anaheim 0.919 4th 0.943 1st
Arizona 0.909 13th 0.921 15th
Calgary 0.901 18th 0.920 16th
Vegas 0.899 19th 0.901 29th
Los Angeles 0.897 21st 0.925 10th
San Jose 0.895 23rd 0.895 31st
Edmonton 0.889 27th 0.919 20th
Vancouver 0.889 28th 0.907 26th

Calgary’s numbers are buoyed by David Rittich’s 0.930 mark in 10 starts, which gives you an idea of how much Mike Smith has struggled to date. What’s encouraging is the team’s usage of Rittich of late, and if he continues to give them number one quality stuff, Calgary’s goaltending numbers will gradually improve. Smith’s Sunday start in Arizona was also encouraging, and the best case scenario sees him return to form while Rittich stays solid.

Elsewhere, though, San Jose is succeeding in spite of Martin Jones while Edmonton’s Cam Talbot and LA’s rotating door of average netminders have helped sewer average on-ice performance. On the other hand, Anaheim is getting league-best goaltending from John Gibson and Ryan Miller, which has kept them far more relevant than they should be.

SUMMING IT UP

It’s obviously impossible to predict the future, and injuries can drastically change these conversations, but we’re starting to get an idea of where the power lies in a very mediocre division. I put stock in how the Flames, Sharks, and Golden Knights have controlled play this season, and my money would be on those three to represent the Pacific come April, especially if they get even average goaltending the rest of the way.

Anaheim seems like the most likely party crasher thanks to Gibson’s work so far. It wouldn’t be the first time an otherworldly season from a goaltender got a team into the playoffs, and Gibson has solidified himself as one of the NHL’s elite.

For a team like Calgary, the door is wide open; at the very least, they look like a good enough team to make the playoffs in a bad division. The Flames can’t control where they play, so all they can do is make the most of favourable conditions. The way things are shaping up, the rest of the Pacific is rolling out the red carpet.

  • Doc Holiday

    Iv said it before, if goal tending can stay above average and we don’t hit the injury bug I think this is the best Flames team we have had in 20 plus years. Its finally very exciting being a Flames fan. Plus the Oilers continue to suck and are on re-build 3.0 shortly

  • The GREAT WW

    The Flames are 5 games over .500 after 24 games.
    They need to be 14 games over .500 at the end of the season to end up with 96 points.
    On track…..

    WW

    • KKisTHEproblem

      They were 5 and 5 to start the season, 9-4-1 last 14, .679 pts %. A 600 points percentage the rest of the way gets them to 98 points. 6-4 each 10 game segment. Very doable for this team, especially playing in the Pacific…

    • Albertabeef

      Wow, are you ever bad at math. For 96 points, .500 would give you 82 points, 7 more wins gets you 96. Maybe doing too much of “Walter White’s Product”? That stuff will rot you from the inside and turn you into a zombie, yuk!

      • Domeward bound

        Glass houses Albertabeef.
        If a team is 41-41-0, clean .500. You are correct that a team needs 7 more wins to hit 96 points.
        But if a team has 48 wins they can’t have 41 losses any more. So the new record is 48-34-0. Or as The GREAT WW says, 14 games over .500

          • Albertabeef

            41-20-21? ya bud OT losses are still losses. Won half the games you played makes you a .500 team. I hate loser points, I really do. Come playoff time does it matter if you lost in overtime? NO! It’s still a loss, and won’t win you a cup. They have this new this new thing called points percentage which is what they use these days for that garbage loser point. Which team would you rather have, one who’s 51-31 or 41-20-21? Despite the one point difference I would much rather see my team win 50 games than 41, wouldn’t you?

      • Redleader

        I only read good articles, I used to listen to 960 all the to , but then stienburg gets on there and I can’t stand listening to him, or the way he talks down to people on his after hours , my left nut knows more about hockey. Thinks his opinion is superior to everyone else,just calling it for what it is .

  • radiomonkey

    Finishing 2nd and drawing the 3rd-place Pacific team seems preferable to winning the division and getting a wild cardteam like Colorado, Winnipeg or Minnesota. There’s a perverse incentive for you.

  • Off the wall

    I’m a big believer in Goal Differential.
    Right now we are +12.
    That puts us 1st in the Pacific and tied for 3rd in the Western Conference.

    That’s pretty impressive considering how we were hovering around the even mark just a few weeks ago.

    • Alberta Ice

      -8 from just one game via Penguins. So that makes that even more impressive being +12 overall. And I like the way many on the team are scoring and it is not being just from one line. That’s a really good reflection on our depth of talent!

      • Albertabeef

        Makes me laugh when people keep bringing up one score again and again. You do know this stuff evens out through a season. Flames have lost only 2 games this season by 3 or more goals. Here is the funny part nobody is talking about, we’ve won 7 games by 3 or more goals. It’s the 2nd best win % in league in 3 goal games.

  • The Fall

    Broken record:

    Shot metrics and expected goals are less accurate predictors than actual goal metrics. Goal differential (aka +/-) is the most predictive.

    Regulation wins are also more predictive of playoff success then points %.

  • Jobu

    According to sportsclubstats, if the Flames go .500 for the rest of the year (26-26-6) then they still have a 40% chance of making the playoffs.

    Jobu suspects they will do much better than this.

  • Alberta Ice

    Will this be the year another Division breaks the run of the Metropolitan Division’s 3 year winning run of Stanley Cups? Or better yet, the year a Canadian team breaks the run of 25 years of USA teams winning our Stanley Cup? I’m encouraged by our chances this year and it would be really special if the Flames are a part of that chance!

    • tank_06

      Us teams winning with Canadian Born players playing big parts. The argument is USAs game because they win the cups makes no sense. More importantly Canada has won three Olympics the last few times NHL players played

  • buts

    Biggest difference is coaching this year. The flames lack of size will make for an early exit come playoff time. But I love the style they play…..very entertaining.

  • deantheraven

    Stats are historical data, recorded for posterity, in order to understand the “Hows” and Whys” related to historical events of the past. Humans are dynamic, ever changing creatures. Players often have “career seasons” in contract years, and others “fall off” statistical “cliffs” the year after. Some players defy the odds…
    Players are asked to change their game, adapt or be replaced, as they age or as a team’s line up changes. Locker rooms can gel or have discord. Shooting percentages rise and fall. Goalies stand on their heads, records are broken year after year. Stat can describe trends but can’t actually predict anything when it come to humans. I can appreciate the historical value of statistics, but as a life long fan I’m well aware of the passing of different eras in our sport. I’ve seen superstars enter the league (most often the case) and I’ve seen them self made over a career. Statistics can measure the consistency of performance, over time, however they still don’t do much informing of the future other than to change the Vegas line from one day to the next.
    You can compare players and teams and their statistical records until you’re blue in the face, and it’s always fun to imagine what Bobby Orr might’ve done in this era or what current superstars may have accomplished in years past. But no one can deny the “apples and oranges’ argument, especially when it comes to human beings. They can be capable of dominance and greatness one night, and stink the joint out the next. Scorers go through slumps and get on hot streaks. Goalies can appear unbeatable for stretches of games and look like they couldn’t stop a beach ball in others. Over a long timeline their numbers average out and provide a mean to examine, however outlier games will never be eliminated, and will always impact statistical records. And what about luck?…
    Humans are changeable, and The Game changes based on whims, and analytical data. Humans have an incredible ability to adapt and improve, but individuals also fail to adapt as evolution passes them by.
    In the end, stats, especially “fancy” ones, can describe in detail what has happened but, to me, they seem to eliminate the Human Factor, especially when it comes to sports and athletes. The Vegas Golden Knights came this close to a championship season in their inaugural campaign. No stats could have predicted that. Now this year Vegas is ‘regressing to the mean’, which as a statement only has value when taken in the context of a larger sample size, ie several seasons.
    I can appreciate the work that goes into statistical analysis, my wife is a scientist, and I admire the writers who wade through the data and forge an article for discussion. I’d just like to see a little more discussion about the Human Element in Our Game.

  • Derzie

    It’s 2018 Pat. It’s all about goal differential as an indicator. Possession stats are a tertiary stat at best. The game is changing fast. So is the applicability of stats.