How have the Flames’ special teams changed from last season?

Over the course of the 40 games the Flames played at the end of 2018, they have registered a powerplay with a 21.1% success rate, and a penalty kill at 79.2%, both hovering around league average. It’s a far cry from their 16.0% powerplay through the 2017-18 season, but not quite so from their 81.8% penalty kill that year.

Let’s take a quick look at who the Flames have used through the first half of this season for their much-improved powerplay, and slightly lessened penalty kill.

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Here are the stats of the Flames’ 10 most frequently used players on the powerplay from the first half of this season and the entirety of last season, ordered by ice time. Rates data via Natural Stat Trick.

2018 (40 games) 2017-18 (82 games)
Player TOI P/60 HDCF/60 Player TOI P/60 HDCF/60
Gaudreau 143:52 6.66 26.23 Gaudreau 283:13 5.08 33.05
Monahan 142:57 5.04 28.12 Monahan 268:29 4.25 32.63
Lindholm 139:52 6.43 28.31 Giordano 257:07 2.33 26.83
Giordano 134:18 5.81 28.59 Hamilton 218:15 3.30 25.56
Tkachuk 132:53 7.62 27.80 Tkachuk 202:36 5.03 28.43
Neal 87:56 1.35 14.83 Brodie 184:07 3.57 28.24
Hanifin 73:48 3.24 13.75 Backlund 175:25 3.74 22.09
Backlund 69:35 0 14.65 Ferland 142:42 2.52 25.22
Ryan 68:34 3.49 11.36 Bennett 111:05 1.61 20.89
Bennett 56:39 2.09 16.70 Brouwer 93:52 3.18 27.36

The biggest changes are the addition of Elias Lindholm and subtraction of Dougie Hamilton, swapping out a right-shot defenceman for a right-shot forward, and granting the forward more ice time relative to his team. It’s been a positive change, as 40 games into this season, Lindholm already would have been one of the top-scoring players on the Flames’ powerplay through the entirety of 2017-18.

Furthermore, the Flames’ top powerplay unit has been pretty consistent through the first half of the 2018-19 season. Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Lindholm, Mark Giordano, and Matthew Tkachuk are all feasting off of one another, leading to a number of both points and high-danger events, some of which already eclipsing the stats from the Flames’ bottom five in 2017-18.

In contrast, the Flames’ second unit so far this season pales in comparison to the bottom five from 2017-18 in regards to generating high-danger chances – while the first unit is killing it, it seems the second unit is completely unable to get anything going for them.

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Mikael Backlund is the biggest question mark regarding the second unit’s inability to score or create. He and Sam Bennett are the only second unit holdovers from the previous season, but Bennett is roughly on pace to match his stats from the year before. Backlund actually had pretty decent contributions to the 2017-18 powerplay, and it’s not as though he has no clue how to score; he’s sixth in overall team scoring without a single powerplay point to his name.

Still, this season’s powerplay is significantly better so far than last season’s, so maybe loading up the top unit is the answer, second unit be damned.

Penalty kill

Same statistical drill as above, only with the Flames’ eight most-frequently used players on the penalty kill, and looking at goals and high-danger corsi events against each player (per 60), rather than points and corsi events for.

2018 (40 games) 2017-18 (82 games)
Player TOI GA/60 HDCA/60 Player TOI GA/60 HDCA/60
Giordano 104:22 7.52 19.08 Giordano 254:15 7.31 24.05
Hamonic 94:36 5.09 14.01 Hamonic 208:34 7.47 26.14
Lindholm 89:11 8.07 20.18 Stone 200:20 6.00 22.21
Brodie 76:42 8.72 22.20 Backlund 194:29 6.19 24.13
Backlund 72:03 8.36 21.74 Brouwer 157:06 9.93 26.36
Ryan 70:17 6.90 19.83 Brodie 152:42 5.51 23.21
Hanifin 63:01 8.72 19.39 Frolik 141:20 4.69 26.85
Jankowski 60:25 4.02 12.06 Stajan 104:42 9.76 29.27

Once again, the biggest change in player personnel features Lindholm, a right-shot forward swapping out for a right-shot defenceman (in this case, Michael Stone). Noah Hanifin has stepped in as the fourth defenceman this season, free agent acquisition Derek Ryan has been used frequently, and Mark Jankowski has received a much bigger role as players like Troy Brouwer and Matt Stajan have departed, while a combination of injury and reduced role for Michael Frolik has him out of the running.

The big difference here is that, while the goals against are about the same or higher, high-danger corsi events are down across the board – and in some cases, particularly Travis Hamonic’s, drastically. The Flames’ depth penalty killers this year are much better than the ones they had last year, as well; Jankowski, in particular, is a massive improvement. A few more minutes for him might see his numbers worsen, but still: he’s a much better option than guys like Brouwer and Stajan were the year before.

As for goals against, both David Rittich and Mike Smith are near the bottom of the league in goals allowed on the kill, which may not be the skaters’ faults, especially if they’re limiting so many high-danger events against.

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Double duty

It’s probably worth a quick note that through the first half of 2018-19 and the entirety of 2017-18 the Flames have had multiple players feature prominently on both ends of special teams, with Giordano and Backlund doing so both seasons.

In 2017-18 the Flames also had TJ Brodie and Brouwer pulling double duty for them, while at the end of the 2018 calendar year, they’ve turned to Lindholm, Hanifin, and Ryan: the three players brought over from Carolina along with head coach Bill Peters (though not all in one move, obviously).

Lindholm is likely the biggest addition to the Flames’ special teams, playing the third most minutes on both and, by all accounts, performing better than the guy he’s replaced. He’s pretty much on Giordano’s level in terms of trust and impact on the team in all situations – and considering how Giordano is a potential Norris Trophy candidate, that’s quite the comparison.

Lindholm’s addition to the Flames is already likely much bigger than could have been forecasted at the time of the trade.

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