We’re now a third of the way into the season, and the Flames haven’t just kept up their winning ways: they’re improving on them.
In their first seven-game segment, they were 4-3-0. In their second, they improved to 4-2-1. In their third, they were once again 4-3-0. They’ve yet to lose a seven-game set this year – and with a ton of goals scored over their past seven outings, they’re asserting themselves as a team to be reckoned with.
Now at 17-9-2, the Flames have started to separate themselves from the rest of the Pacific Division. They have a .643 winning percentage through the season so far, up from their previous .595. It has them seventh in the NHL, fourth in the Western Conference, and first in the Pacific Division.
- Their goals for per game is 3.57, up from their earlier 3.29. They’re tied for fifth overall in the NHL, second among Western Conference teams, and first in the Pacific Division.
- Their goals against per game is 2.89, improved from their previous 2.95. They’re 14th in the NHL, ninth among Western Conference teams, and fourth in the Pacific Divison.
- Their goal differential is +18, up from +6. It has them fifth in the NHL, third among Western Conference teams, and first in the Pacific Division.
- Their powerplay is at 23.8%, up from their earlier 20.8%. It’s tied for 10th in the NHL. They’re fifth in the Western Conference, and first in the Pacific Division.
- Their penalty kill is at 75.9%, up a little from their earlier 75.8%. It’s tied for 24th in the NHL. They’re 11th in the Western Conference, and fifth in the Pacific Division.
- At 8:08 penalty minutes per game, they’ve reduced the number of infractions they’ve taken, down from 8:14 earlier. The Flames are tied for the seventh fewest penalties taken in the NHL, second fewest in the Western Conference, and second fewest in the Pacific Division.
- Their 5v5 CF/60 is 61.10, down from their previous 63.65. It’s the sixth highest in the NHL, and third among Western Conference and Pacific Divison teams.
- Their 5v5 CA/60 is 52.04, down from their previous 52.45. It’s the second lowest in the NHL, and among Western Conference and Pacific Division teams.
- Their 5v5 CF is 54.01%, down from their previous 54.82%. It’s the fourth highest in the NHL, and third among Western Conference and Pacific Division teams.
- Their 5v5 shooting percentage is 8.03%, up from 7.44%. It’s tied for 17th in the NHL.
- Their 5v5 save percentage is 91.57%, up a little from 91.56%. It’s 17th in the NHL.
- Their PDO is 99.61, up from 99.00. It’s 18th in the NHL.
So, what’s changed?
The Flames went on a goal-scoring spree these past seven games – a set that somewhat ironically included their first time being shut out this season – and that boosted their overall offensive numbers (but not their corsi for – though thanks to scoring so often, during games they didn’t have to try to generate chances as much as they likely would have otherwise). Their goal differential has soared as a result, but maybe the best news on the entire offensive front: the Flames, with all of their offensive talent, are actually, finally putting it to use on the powerplay.
Also encouraging is that on the defensive side of things, the Flames are holding pretty steady. They’ve been good at limiting corsi events against, and their goaltending appears to have evened out for the most part – and that’s with both David Rittich and Mike Smith sharing the net roughly equally (albeit Rittich did get the tougher opponents in this set). The penalty kill could still use some work, however, but at least the Flames have been pretty good about not really taking penalties.
The Flames really aren’t benefiting much from percentages one way or another: they’re driving play, their shooting percentage isn’t extreme, and by the numbers at least, they just look like a really good team.
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.
Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm, and Matthew Tkachuk have proven borderline unstoppable. Lindholm is looking exactly like that last, hopefully long-term cog Gaudreau and Monahan needed to establish an elite line, while Tkachuk continues to make his case as one of the Flames’ most important players near singlehandedly, on an incomplete line featuring the team’s fifth best forward in Mikael Backlund and an uncertain rotating cast. It’s really difficult to find fault in any of these guys’ games, and it’s obvious who the team’s best forwards are.
There’s some good news in the hunt for the team’s sixth best forward: James Neal looks like he’s performing better as the season goes on. The puck still isn’t going in for him, but he has the worst shooting percentage among every single Flames forward with at least one goal. We keep saying this, but surely there’s no way that holds up for the final two-thirds of the season, right?
The Flames look to have a decent enough supporting cast to their top line players. Mark Jankowski is performing a little better and Derek Ryan is holding on as well, while Sam Bennett is doing alright and the team would probably benefit from Michael Frolik’s return. Some of the shine has worn off Austin Czarnik as of late, but he still deserves the chance to be a regular (at the least, over Garnet Hathaway).
Injuries and demotions have opened up chances for Andrew Mangiapane (decent start) and Ryan Lomberg (probably should not be in the NHL).
The Flames’ most common line combinations at 5v5 have been:
It doesn’t look like there’s any desire to split up the Flames’ top line any time soon: they’re one of just four lines in the NHL to have spent over 300 5v5 minutes together.
The team still hasn’t found a consistent linemate for Tkachuk and Backlund, however.
Now, the defence (all situations, ordered by ice time):
Mark Giordano remains the best the Flames have, but there’s been some noticeable improvement from the rest of the top four as of late. Travis Hamonic is performing well with the toughest zone starts on the team, while TJ Brodie looks to keep getting better. Noah Hanifin, meanwhile, has shot up over this seven-game stretch – scoring more probably has something to do with that, though. But fact of the matter is, there really isn’t a weak cog you can point to in the Flames’ top four most games.
The rookies are still figuring things out: Oliver Kylington in particular, who’s getting a chance earlier than expected due to Juuso Valimaki’s injury. He needs to show a little more, but in the meantime, he’s holding up well enough as an injury replacement sixth defenceman.
Dalton Prout probably shouldn’t be playing too much in the NHL at all, though.
And finally, goalies (all situations):
Rittich still easily has the superior numbers, but over these past seven games, Smith has done some work to bridge the gap. Rittich can be better trusted with the tougher saves at this stage of the season, but maybe Smith will be able to continue rounding back into form as the games progress – though it’s still going to take a fair bit to get back up there.
The best case scenario for the Flames, however, would be for two goalies playing at least at league average. It’s taken some time, but this is probably the first bit of evidence we’ve gotten indicating that they may be on their way towards just that.