Photo Credit: Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

Flames’ return from the break harkens back to previous season collapse – except this time, they have a substantial cushion

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.

  • Skylardog

    One of the stats that should amaze everyone is Tampa Bay’s 5v5 GF%, not as a team, but as individuals that make up that team.

    Not a single player, not one, has a GF% less than 50%. Every player has been on the ice for more goals for than against. Stamkos is actually the worst at 50.65%, 39 GF and 38 GA. Even their 23rd player, Cory Conacher, is at 0 GF and 0 GA. He has played in just one game.

    That is how you win hockey games.

    But on a top team, should that not be expected?

    By contrast, the Flames have 12 players, 8 of them on the 23 man roster (which is 22 right now), below 50% GF%. We also have 3 that are just at 50% and one that is at 0 GF and 0 GA (Lomberg).

    Our line make up and system should be capable of putting out any group and having them hold their own against a majority of teams. Yes, against teams like Tampa, Washington, Winnipeg, and San Jose, guys may find they are getting scored on more than they score, but you have to make up for that against the weaker teams. And if you can’t score, then darn well play the game so you don’t get scored on.

    Everyone should be a net contributor, although I would give a pass to a trio of rookie defensemen that are paired together (although why do they get paired together?)

    Guess, of the regulars on our 23 man roster, who are the worst?

    Czar, 35% 7GF 13GA, Ryan 38.71% 12GF 19GA, and Neal, 41.30% 19GF 27GA.

    I would like Treliving to just take the last week of June and first 2 weeks of July off this summer and maybe go somewhere nice – that has no phones, or internet.

    I wonder if Tre could handle three weeks in my trailer panning for gold? I know just the spot.

    • freethe flames

      How long has Tampa been building this team? They have been a contender for how long and it looks like they are the best bet to win this year. Over that time how often did Stevie make trades to shake things up, add FA, and remain loyal to his core. We started to rebuild 5 years ago and still have holes that is for sure but if the young d core continues to develop as they have been and the young forward core keeps going forward BT can add the type of depth that Tampa has not by making big splashes at FA but more solid depth guys as well as through development.

      • withachance

        This 100%. This is literally the first year in decades since the Flames are even relevant in the league, and the team goes through a mini slump and everyone here is running around yelling sky is falling, trade everyone, this team sucks.

        Tampa has been on the cusp of contention for years. So has SJS. This is the first time the Flames are good in a long time, but they are not a complete team. It takes years, see Pens before their repeat, WSH since forever, Tampa hasnt even been to the cup finals yet with this core.

        Sorry to say it, but THIS TEAM IS NOT A CUP CONTENDER THIS YEAR. They never were, even when leading the West. This is a foundation year, build experience, see how far you can go in the playoffs, build chemistry, continue to establish a winning culture.

        • Eggy

          Good points I agree but let’s go get the cup anyways. We have a good enough team that it is possible to win the cup just other teams that look more like contenders so we gotta give 200% in playoffs and work just that much harder than a team like Tampa

          • withachance

            I just wish it was as easy as that… it is totally possible the Flames get to the cup, but again look at WSH, Tampa, Pens, Nsh, SJS. You think they didnt get to the cup because didnt work harder or didnt give 200% ?

            Easier said than done my friend

    • slapshot444

      Burkie was chastised once for spending July 1st at the cottage while working for Toronto. He always maintained there are no bargains on July 1st so don’t bother. Although there must be at least some FA signings that have paid dividends, they are few are far between. Incidentally John Hufnagle works on the same principle in a heavily cap restrained CFL.

  • freethe flames

    The next three games will be telling as to whether this team breaks out if it’s slump. Florida tonight a non playoff team, Pittsburg a team we owe and is struggling in their own right and Arizona another non play off team. If we struggle against these 3 teams then something is seriously wrong.

    • Eggy

      Yep agreed I like how Billy is switching up the the lines a bit putting Benny on second line and mang is better suited for a third line than fourth and even our fourth line is looking good tonight frolik Ryan and hath

  • Orrwasbest

    My concern is last year when the going got tough the Flames folded like a rented Mule. This year is starting to look eerily similar. At the very least, its concerning in regards to the going will get even tougher come playoff time, this team seems to nice to do well, I think we are right near the bottom of the league in hits. Yes we might be in a faster pace NHL these days but Nasty wins in the playoffs!

    • deantheraven

      Orrwasbest, while I agree with your assessment (without mentioning #gritfactor or truculence) that the game changes in April, sometimes sooner, I’m not sure I’m on with your mixed, folding mule metaphor. But I still love saying your name!

    • ZZMiddle

      Why in the world would people trash that comment Orr? The Flames are much too soft to get deep in the playoffs. Kchuck, Benny, Hath and Gio can’t do it all. Will be interesting to hear what all you speed and skill guys are saying in May.

  • 2013 draft...

    I honestly think the travel is catching up with the team… After the break all the way back east for 2 games then back for 1.. then out to Vancouver then all the way to Tampa… Saw the schedule for Feb and wondered how this would play out… Will hopefully see a refreshed team tonight against the Panthers

  • FrolikIsAPassenger

    I think this team is coming back to earth.
    They dont have a legitimate first line center. They dont have a second line center. They dont have a first line rhd. They dont have a goalie. Guys were playing over their heads.

  • Garry T

    I am not a fan of analytics breaking this and that down ad nausium. However, I am going to have to re-think that. This article focusing on GF% and the commentary following has me thinking differently. And a good analysis from you Skylar dog. Thanks

    • deantheraven

      Analytics like corsi are historical data which can put a team’s success or failure into context. However, you can’t convince me they are predictive. Because, humans.
      I do appreciate Skylar’s insight, though.

  • UpTkachuk

    A few days ago, I was listening to the Fan960 and heard the old expression “The Flames don’t want to get in a track meet with THAT team!” I can’t say which one of those paid babblers said it, but it got me thinking. The Flames are now built to get into track meets with ANY team in the NHL. To be a competitive (elite) team in the NHL, you have to be able to drive the play to your own liking!
    No need to panic yet, but the Flames have to start playing THEIR style and taking the game to their opponents much like they did before the new year. That style was relentless, aggressive and kept their opponents on their heels for much of the game. I haven’t seen it for nearly 6 weeks now…hope they rediscover it soon…

    • Skylardog

      Apparently JT Miller was mic’d up against the Flames on Tuesday and was heard saying that our player tracking was brutal. I found the clip on FoxSports but can’t play it. They exploited our weakness.

      That would match up with what we have been seeing for a while from this team. Guys get open all the time against us.

  • Chucky

    My major takeaway from this article is that Corsi is a useless stat.
    48.52 = 5-0-0
    52.84 = 0-1-4
    46.41 = 4-0-1
    53.03 = 1-3-1
    Conclusion the higher the Corsi the lower the points.

    • deantheraven

      Exactly! Finally, a Big Bear agrees with me.
      Now maybe someone should poke him with a PDO.
      That stat always gets me riled up and has about as much predictive value as corsi.
      Show me TOI, all situations, and +/-. Show chances, shots, blocks and even hits, along with the final score.
      That’ll do.

  • Garry T

    The real issue with this team is our coaching staff never get’s excited, meaning you never see them giving players a “ give your head a shake moment “ ! We have tremendous leadership in Geo. The players respect him. I think he handles himself on a balanced basis in terms of motivation.

    I do not think it would hurt to “ get on top of players “ while on the bench when they just committed brain farts.

    Furthermore, as much as Treliving likes his team, I can tell you he is concerned right now. There is no other leadership than Geo. We have zero players who are capable of standing in front of the bench after another typical slow start and a goal against, telling the boys we are here to win games. If you do not want to contribute, then “ FO “ !

    They can all play well and contribute. It’s that somebody has to grab their attention pre-game in the room and on the ice. If they do make changes at or before the deadline, I would really like to see a couple of “ leadership “ guys arrive. Some size and skill too.

    • Pancakes

      I think we should look at Nick Ritchie from the Ducks. 6’4”, 234lbs LW. He’s having a career year with 27 points in 42 games. One of the only Ducks with a positive +\-; he’s plus 4. He’s signed for 2 more years at 1.53$ I believe. Always tough to trade within the division but he might fit the bill for us. Plus he’s the type of player that should be somewhat reasonable to obtain. Mangiapane and a 5th? Dube and a 5th? Maybe the pick switches to a 3rd?

  • meat1

    I might be wrong here but I always thought that our trade for Hamonic included a conditional 2nd rounder. The condition was that it was a pick in EITHER 2019 or 2020…and that we got a fourth rounder back from them that same year. The only reason I’m asking is because IF Tre trades this years first, could we not at least keep our second in 2019 to give us a top 60 pick and then next year lose our second? Might not make a lot of difference in the grand scheme of things but could someone clarify the specifics of the trade for me?

    • Skylardog

      The second in 2019 was not conditional and is gone already. Yes we do have NYIs 4th this year, but not our own.
      We have all of our picks next year and beyond.

    • mrroonie

      If the Flames had made the playoffs in 2018, the 2018 3rd round pick sent to Arizona in the Mike Smith trade would have been upgraded to the Flames 2019 2nd round pick. A week later, that same Flames 2nd round pick was traded to NYI in the Hamonic trade conditional on it not going to Arizona. When the Flames failed to make the playoffs in 2018, Arizona received the 3rd rounder leaving the 2019 2nd available to go to NYI. If the 2019 2nd had gone to ARI then NYI would have received the 2nd in 2020.

  • Justthateasy

    I would rather worry about the big picture than this slump.
    They need more guys to lay on the body than just Bennett Hathaway and Giordano.

    They should eke out a victory tonight and I mean eke out because the Panthers will be smelling blood .

  • meat1

    Thanks Skylardog. That makes sense because there has never been much mention of it, but if you google “Travis Hamonic trade details” it still says it’s a conditional pick?

    • Skylardog

      The way it worked was this.

      Smith was for a conditional 3rd round in 2018 that became a 2019 2nd if the Flames made the playoffs last season. As they missed, they got our 3rd last year.

      As the 2nd could have been gone in 2019 had the Flames made the playoffs, the Hamonic deal was for a 2019 2nd if available, or for a 2020 2nd if the Flames had to give this years 2nd to Arizona. As it is available, the second went to the Isle this year. In return, we got this years 4th from the Isle.

  • Flaymin Frank

    These are the dog days of the schedule. Players lose focus. Being chased in the standings every night gets to be a pain. Probably a good thing to drop back in the pack a bit. We’ll finish strong.

  • Skylardog

    I think we are going to see Tre begin to make adjustments within the next 5 days or so. We will be both sellers and buyers in the next 10 days, is my prediction.

    He will begin to clear out cap space. There are a few parts that have value to a team in the playoff picture. We are talking depth forwards and maybe a key guy or 2 leaving.

    That will clear the way for a big deal.

    The other way it goes down is to make a big swing in the next few days that sees the cap being cleared in a big deal, lots of moving parts. The team we deal with, then moves the guys that we give them to clear cap at the deadline for picks and prospects. That deal would have to happen within about 5 days to give the team we trade with time to move the guys we move out to clear cap space. I guess we are talking about a 3 way deal here in reality.

    I would expect Frolik to be gone, as well as Janko or Ryan. Brodie still hits me as expendable, but with his M-NTC, he will have to leave for somewhere that he oks in exchange for a draft pick/prospect/depth guy.

    I don’t think we can move Neal, although my thinking on this would be a scenario in which he could be moved if the conditions are right. I still think he becomes a key guy in the playoffs. He will break out at some point.

    We are making a big deal with Ottawa before the deadline passes. May not be Stone, but there are several pieces there that fit our needs.

    When the dust settles, I think we have a new top 6 forward, and if Brodie leaves a big Dman. Goaltending will also be addressed.

    • withachance

      I just dont see Fro and Janko being traded in-season. Ditto for Brodie (even more so). I think these moves are pretty viable in the offseason, but not sure if even BT is ballsy enough to trade away a top pairing Dman, part of the 3M and the best PK guy on the team during the season.

      I think we should retain Ryan. Guy is solid and dont mind paying 3mil for peace of mind on the bottom 6

        • withachance

          Yes pretty sure. GF% is a just a single stat in a myriad of stats we can pick out for a single player. GF% is basically the +/- stat put into a ratio, and there’s been plenty of discussion of using +/- as a valid and viable stat.

          Anyways, he is the best faceoff man on the team. Plays meaningful PK minutes, passes the eye test for me most nights in terms cycling and soft hands, possibly the best 4th line center in the league (as you said, hes a 3C almost anywhere else). There’s so much talk about improving depth, whats so bad about paying a 3C to play as your 4C?

    • Eggy

      Six to be safe. Haha but I’m thinking smith will have a solid game tonight h a a verteran and I think he saw rittich and the flames upset with the outcomes of recent games and I believe he is going to take some pressure off of rittichs shoulders and have a good game.

  • Luter 1

    Not a word about trading for some team toughness and somebody that will actually throw a bodycheck or back a teammate. We have the least number of hits in the league, are being routinely roughed up lately in other teams barns and we talk about little guys like Zuccarello and Zinbanejad. How about we package up Frolik and Brodie (two very soft players) and bring in someone with some jam. This isn’t just a slump, teams are bringing it since the All-star break and the first-half season ice capades is over. This present line-up is not built for grinding tough hockey – playoff hockey.