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Travis Hamonic’s return highlights season improvements since 9-1 loss

On Oct. 25, the Flames had, undoubtedly, their worst moment of the season: they lost 9-1 to the Penguins and, in typical blowout fashion, looked pathetic while doing so. Compounding matters it was their 10th game of the year, and they’d only looked like a middling team up to that point – and, indeed, being a 5-5 team at that stage didn’t do a lot to inspire confidence.

Though they lost their next game, the Flames went on to turn their season around soon after, a four-game winning streak and habit of scoring several goals in single games suggesting there was a much better team underneath the surface. Now, nearly at the season’s halfway mark, it looks like the team started to turn things around – especially in one area in particular.

High-danger events

Via Natural Stat Trick, we can take a glance at the Flames’ underlying numbers at 5v5 through the season so far, split into two categories: before (and including) the Penguins game (10 games), and after the blowout (27 games). A lot of the numbers will look pretty similar, but for one key difference:

Before (10 games) After (27 games)
CF% 53.41 (6th in NHL) 53.32 (5th in NHL)
HDCF% 44.14 (26th) 51.45 (12th)
GF% 48.89 (16th) 51.04 (13th)
SH% 9.44 (T-5th) 7.37 (23rd)
SV% 90.94 (23rd) 91.90 (16th)
PDO 1.004 (14th) 0.993 (T-19th)

The Flames’ regular corsi for is near identical, but their ability to control the bulk of the game’s high danger attempts – both for and against – rose by a fair bit: from one of the worst in the NHL to the top half. Their goals percentage rose alongside that, as well.

But it wasn’t necessarily on the offensive end that got the Flames going: it was preventing so many high danger chances going against them.

Before (10 games) After (27 games)
HDCF/60 12.75 (7th in NHL) 10.75 (15th in NHL)
HDCA/60 16.13 (31st) 10.15 (9th)

While the Flames’ high danger corsi events for have fallen by two per game, they’ve reduced the ones going against them by nearly six per game: and that means quite the reduction in potential scoring chances against.

Their underlying offensive rates have actually fallen since their first 10 games, even though they’ve still been capable of scoring plenty of goals in the meantime. Their shooting percentage is less lethal and their PDO has dropped some, as well. But their save percentage has gone up, and their starting goalies’ balance of games might have something to do with that.

In the first 10 games of the season, Mike Smith started seven (three wins, two quality games, pulled twice), while David Rittich got just three (two wins, three quality games). In the ensuing 27, Smith started 13 games (eight wins, six or seven quality games, pulled once), while Rittich got 14 (nine wins, nine quality games, pulled once). Giving Rittich a bigger workload helped elevate the quality of the Flames’ goaltending. It didn’t guarantee a win, but Rittich gave the Flames a better chance to win more often than not.

Combine that with the Flames’ ability to reduce high danger chances going against them, and you had a much more structurally sound team – one that wouldn’t necessarily have to rely on a high shooting percentage to take other teams to task, but could instead get by on its other merits.

Travis Hamonic

Where did such a defensive turnaround come from, though? Recall that Travis Hamonic was injured in the first game of the season, and missed the next eight games with a facial fracture. He returned just in time for the game against the Penguins, and has been playing relatively high minutes ever since: typically about 18-22 minutes a game, with a couple of 25-minute outings in there. (His average ice time for the season is 20:37 – fourth among Flames defencemen, but not far behind Noah Hanifin’s 20:55.)

Hamonic missing the bulk of those first 10 games allowed him to either escape the ravages of so many high danger corsi events going against his team. That or, well, he’s been a key part in bringing that number down.

Hamonic’s 5v5 HDCF over the 29 games he’s played so far this season is 54.82% – the most out of all Flames defencemen, including ahead of runner-up Mark Giordano (51.30%). His HDCA/60, at 10.92, is third among Flames defencemen, behind Oliver Kylington and Rasmus Andersson, who have far smaller roles than Hamonic does. (For reference, Giordano’s HDCA/60 is 11.23.) Furthermore, Hamonic leads all regular Flames defencemen with an HDCF/60 of 13.25; Giordano’s sits at 11.83.

In short, Hamonic has been a stabilizing force on the Flames’ backend, and losing him to start the season may have hindered the Flames’ ability to get off to a proper start. Though the loss to the Penguins makes for a convenient cutoff narrative point, that Hamonic returned to the team was likely a far bigger factor than losing 9-1 that one time.

Special teams

It’s also worth noting that the Flames’ special teams have improved astronomically since the loss to the Penguins 10 games into the season – and, seeing as how Hamonic doesn’t play on the powerplay and the goalies are largely irrelevant on the man advantage, the Flames’ success can’t be solely attributed to them.

Before (10 games) After (27 games)
PP% 14.6 (24th in NHL) 26.1 (T-6th in NHL)
PK% 72.2 (T-25th) 83.5 (T-8th)

The Flames had an absolutely abysmal powerplay in 2017-18; perhaps they needed time to get all of that out of their systems, and to adapt to having a right shot as offensively talented as Elias Lindholm that they could actually rely on.

As for the improvement on the penalty kill, well, that’s where Hamonic (third in shorthanded ice time) and the goalie splits likely do come in: Hamonic’s been the top Flames defenceman at reducing high-danger corsi events on the penalty kill, while Rittich’s numbers are better than Smith’s when it comes to a high-danger save percentage down a man.

  • wot96

    First of all, thanks for this, Ari. I for one do not like working over the holidays and even if you got this written and prepped way in advance, good work.

    Secondly, the last second is important. When both special teams are top ten in the league, that makes it that much more likely you will be having a good season. Unless you are abysmal 5 v. 5 and Hamonic’s return looks to have settled that down.

    Thirdly, with a PDO that’s 19th while on a hot streak including a lower than average shooting percentage, if the Flames do start shooting lights out or either goalie goes on a tear, this could get interesting. I just hope it happens during the short season.

  • The Beej

    Nice article! Merryxmas and happynewyear.

    You very nicely highlighted the correlation between High danger scoring chances and save %.

    Ive many times asked myself during hot and cold streaks… is it the goalie or the defense? Many times in a big blowout loss the goalie can look horrendous but how much of that is on the defense at times? And when a goalie is lights out – how much due to the defense?

  • The Fall

    Hey FN – challenge you guys to drop Skip the Dishes as your sponsor. Those guys charge 30% of the menu price to the restaurant. That’s crippling for most small business.

    • BendingCorners

      Not necessarily. A busy restaurant makes money from liquor sales. As long as it stays busy, selling meals offsite just keeps the kitchen staff busy cooking instead of doing dishes, and reduces losses due to raw food spoilage.
      Besides which, pizza places deliver and still make money, so there is precedent for the model.
      Worst case, restaurants just don’t participate.

      • Albertabeef

        A lot of restaurants use their own delivery drivers and most other delivery companies I know of usually charge a flat rate. Otherwise most place add a delivery charge. I’ve never used skip the dishes and most likely will avoid it in the future. But that 30% should be charged to the customer not to the business. 15% delivery(gas) charge plus 15% gratuity makes sense. But not all the 30% is going to the driver either.

          • The GREAT WW

            The truth is “Skip the dishes” is one of many challenges that small restaurants face;

            -increased minimum wage.
            -changing labour laws.
            -increased taxes.
            -Carbon tax.
            -increased food prices.
            -no liquor sales due to delivery services.
            -reduced liquor sales due to stricter blood alcohol levels, house parties are becoming a thing again.
            -kids like to chat online, not at a restaurant.
            -increasing liquor prices.
            -Alberta economy is keeping people at home.

            There are probably many other reasons; operating a small restaurant is a very tough business!!!!!!!

            WW

  • Vinnsanity0412

    Great to see the The Hammer become the D-man he was advertised to be. Supposedly the cost (draft picks) was high, but a top notch NHL D-man, already developed, is a better bet than a bunch of draft picks who may or may not develop into something. Obviously, the ‘winner’ of this trade is still to be determined (a decade from now?), but if Travis can provide this kind of service for the next 6-7 years, at the very least it’ll be a win-win. Now watch, Tre will trade his ass out of town for a goalie or scoring winger lol!

  • Flint

    Disliking a player and disliking a trade are two totally different things. Hamonic understandably took some time to adjust and was dragged down by his partnering with Brodie, but he has been very good for us. Considering draft picks are a total lottery, especially in the second round, we’ve got an excellent player contributing today.

    Hamonic has been an excellent addition to the Flames at the right time of our competitive window.

      • Albertabeef

        It’s hard for secondary scoring to happen when Peters shortens the bench. The only time they see 3rd period ice time is when we are leading. If your skilled guys can’t score in the 18-20 minutes a game how do you expect lesser players to score with 7-15 minutes a game? Luck? Oh now I have a song in my head(Facts of Life theme song lol). Good luck bad luck puck luck it comes it goes.

  • buts

    The 3 game losing streak before Xmas concerns me as the high danger chances given are creeping back in the teams play as well as a few other holes emerging. Also secondary scoring or lack of is killing us right now.

    • Albertabeef

      Can you define “secondary scoring” in today’s modern NHL? It’s not 1989 anymore and goal scoring isn’t the same since about 1995. Without looking it up I think it was 2015-16 that was the lowest goals per game average the NHL had seen in the modern era(60+ years). Almost every person on the team is on pace to match or beat their totals from last year. In the old days your 3rd and 4th lines might have stolen you some games. In the modern era the 3rd and 4th lines have different roles, create energy, eat up time, defense first. I’m not saying I like it but this is the way the game is played and coached today.

  • Just.Visiting

    I didn’t care for the trade at the time and was extremely disappointed with Hamonic’s performance last year and the start of this year. It’s been like he’s a completely different player, though, since the night he scored his first goal of the year. Since then, he’s been much more involved offensively and looked better defensively too. He’s definitely one of the big surprises of the year for me.

  • Albertabeef

    Who do we blame for losses if we really could? Including overtime losses the Flames have lost 15 games so far. Sure we had weak goal tending and some players had some bad reads and plays but statistically speaking whats happening? I was browsing individual spit stats wins vs losses. What I found in the +/- for the 12 games we lost in regulation was interesting. Looks like most the team collectively takes a third of the games off
    Monahan -13 w/3 points
    Gaudreau -12 w/3points
    Lindholm -11 w/7points
    Tkachuk -10 w/9points
    Backlund -6 w/3points
    Neal -5 w/3points
    Bennett -4 w/2points
    Ryan -2 w/2points
    Jankowski -1 w2/points
    Giordano -8 w/6points
    Hamonic -9 w/0points
    Hanafin -7 w/1point
    Brodie -3 w/1point
    Andersson -6/0points in 11 losses
    Valimaki -5/0points in 8 of the12 losses
    Kylington -1/0points in 3 losses

  • Garry T

    Travis, if you read FN. Great job. You are playing great and love having you on the team. Keep it going. Your dedication to the team and your efforts are greatly appreciated.