Considering how the Flames have played since returning to action from their nine days off – part All-Star break, part mandated five-day break – and how they played in a similar timeframe last year, you’d be forgiven for, at the very least, being concerned. This is now two years in a row in which the Flames have been hot going into the break, only to come out of it ice cold.
The similarities do go a little deeper than just going from winning to losing, however. (Note that, in 2017-18, the start of the Flames’ decline can be traced back to their five-day break – the All-Star break came in between their fourth and fifth games returning from their initial break.)
|2017-18||Record||Goal differential||5v5 CF%||5v5 HDCF%||PDO|
|5 games before||5-0-0||+11||48.52||44.59||1.077|
|5 games after||0-1-4||-6||52.84||60.53||0.985|
|2018-19||Record||Goal differential||5v5 CF%||5v5 HDCF%||PDO|
|5 games before||4-0-1||+11||46.41||46.00||1.056|
|5 games after||1-3-1||-7||53.03||49.46||0.970|
In both years, before they had time off, they were cruising along in games. They didn’t have strong corsi stats, but that’s likely at least in part due to their opponents trying to play catchup: only one of their five games before each break, in both seasons, can really be considered a blowout, whereas the rest were all relatively close (one overtime win in 2017-18 and two in 2018-19; three games won by a margin of two goals or fewer in both years). They also had their PDO working for them: things were going right for the Flames before their respective breaks in both seasons.
Compare that to after, when seemingly nothing can go right. Their PDO fell in both years, so things may not be entirely their fault on that front. There are, however, two key differences: in 2017-18, coming out of the break, the Flames lost almost exclusively in overtime and the shootout, i.e. a lot of close one-goal losses. This season, in their five games back, they’ve played three one-goal games, but have lost by three goals the other two times.
There’s also the matter that, in 2017-18, the Flames’ high-danger corsi percentage went up a fair bit coming out of the break. So far, in 2018-19, it hasn’t. The Flames have been unlucky to a certain extent – bad goals going in at exactly the wrong time have cost them in at least three of their losses (the Capitals, the Sharks, and the Canucks) – but there’s clear room for improvement here.
(In fairness to the Flames and their HDCF, it actually might not be that concerning. Against the Canucks – a game I’m sure most would agree they absolutely deserved to win – their HDCF was 59.09%. Against the Lightning – a game they absolutely deserved to lose – it was 36.36%. Cause for worry? Sure. But at least they blew it against the very talented team, and not so much against the team they dominated.)
But with the similarities at play, does it mean it’s time to hit the panic button? Are the Flames doomed to pull a repeat of their 2017-18 season, spiralling out of the playoffs in a most disastrous and miserable fashion?
Probably not, because this year, the Flames have built up enough good will to not only ride themselves out of a slump, but to convincingly remind themselves they’re better than this (i.e. not to diagnose from afar, but to hopefully nix any self-defeatist attitudes that appeared to creep into their game last season).
Before their five-day break in 2017-18, the Flames had a modest 25-16-4 record. It was good for second in the Pacific at the time, and fifth in the West. They were all of two points up on the fourth place team in their division; they had a lead, but there wasn’t much of a gap. A prolonged losing streak would easily spell their end – and it did.
This season, before their break, they had a 33-13-5 record. It was good for first in the Pacific, and first in the West. They were also 19 points up on the fourth place team in the division: a substantial lead, unlike the season before.
Since their return from the break, the gap has closed on the Flames, but it’s been from teams nipping at their heels for home ice in the playoffs – not from teams threatening to take their postseason spot. Could a prolonged losing streak see them in danger of missing the postseason all together? Sure, but the same can be said for almost every other team. Fact of the matter is, they’ve won enough over the course of this season – substantially more than they did by this time in 2017-18 – that they can afford to go on a small losing streak. The standings were much tighter for them in 2017-18; this season, they’re only tightening at the very top.
(Knock on wood that the Flames won’t suffer any season-altering injuries this time around, though.)
Whether the Flames experience any playoff success this year will be another matter entirely, and one we definitely can’t predict at this stage. But they’ve got time to figure out their issues and iron out the kinks, and that’s something they didn’t have last year.
It’s not encouraging to see them drop a handful of games in a row, but this season, at least, the sky won’t be falling.