Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Breaking down Calgary versus Colorado using game score

Despite being heavy favourites heading into the playoffs, the Calgary Flames find themselves out of the race for the Cup after a 4-1 series defeat at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche. Succinctly, the Flames were beat by the better team. That’s hard to digest, especially when looking at on-paper comparisons, but on the ice, that’s exactly what happened.

As the old saying goes, anything can happen in the playoffs, and the Avalanche hitting their stride at the exact time the Flames were discombobulated is one of those things. It happens. It’s true that hoping for career-best performances from the Flames again next season would be foolish and that not having a deep run this season was a missed opportunity. However, the Flames’ window to contend is just opening, and they’ll have many more opportunities to make postseason splashes.

Game score comparisons

The Avalanche strung together four really good games, and got mostly positive contributions from all of their players. After a 4-0 defeat in Game 1, they responded in such a way that the Flames were simply not able to counter for the rest of the series. The Flames were largely outplayed in all aspects.

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One way to look at on-ice performances would be by using game score. As such, I plotted each player’s game score to get a better sense of team performances. Data provided by hockeystatcards.com (@cepvi0). Player positions are split for added context.


After the Flames’ Game 1 dominance, the Avalanche took over from there. Led by Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado’s forwards created more pressure and had better overall games. Over the five games, an Avalanche forward posted a game score greater than two nine times. The Flames forwards did that exactly zero times (Matthew Tkachuk was close with 1.97 in Game 1).

Typically with game score, big offensive performances will merit those large scores, and Colorado consistently got said performances out of MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. Gabriel Landeskog was a standout player in Game 2 as well. In the series closer, Rantanen played the best game of any player in the series, and Colin Wilson had a breakout game to help the Avalanche get into the second round.

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Conversely, the Flames’ forwards struggled after Game 1. No single player had a particularly good performance, and a group of Flames ended up with game scores below zero in every game they lost. Their best players just weren’t able to muster any offence to put the Avalanche on high alert.


The Flames’ defensive corps were alright, all things considered. However, there seemed to be an exploitable pairing, and the Avalanche always took full advantage of that. No defenceman on the Flames roster had great playoff outings, but they were fine. It would have been nice to see Mark Giordano continue his impressive scoring, but the wells were dry when it came to the playoffs.

The two worst game scores from a defenceman were actually from Noah Hanifin in Games 4 and 5. He started alright, but as the series went on, he was often seen on the wrong end of the ice.

The better defence corps obviously belonged to the Avalanche, who were led by Tyson Barrie. By game score, he was the best defenceman on the ice in Games 2 through 5. Cale Makar also had a good impact since joining the team.


Many were worried about the Flames’ goaltending heading into the postseason. A lot of cautious optimism was in the air when Mike Smith posted a shutout to open the playoffs. However, he was one of the Flames’ best players for four straight games. He had the best game score in Games 1 and 4, and really gave the Flames a chance to win every game. It wasn’t until Game 5 that he really crumbled.

On the other end of the ice, Philipp Grubauer was not going to be outdone. He was often one of the Avalanche’s best players as well. He made saves when they mattered the most and won four straight starts. He even had three games with game scores of two or more.

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The better team won

That’s as simple as it gets. In four of five games, the Avalanche were the better team. As team efforts go, the Avalanche really dug deep as the underdogs and easily stunned the Flames in convincing fashion.

The Flames put together one really fun campaign, far exceeding early season expectations. It would have been nice to see them go deeper; getting buried by the Avalanche was not an ideal way to lose in the playoffs, but it happens. The better team won, and the Flames were on the wrong side of it.

Onto the next season.

Related: See how the Flames fared versus the Avalanche by score and venue adjusted fancy stats here.

Below are game scores for each player for every game.


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Player Game 1 Game 2 Game 3 Game 4 Game 5
Andrew Mangiapane 1.16 -0.08 -0.32 -0.17 0.07
Austin Czarnik NA NA NA NA -0.38
Derek Ryan 0.03 -0.29 -0.06 0.86 -0.48
Elias Lindholm 1.14 0.28 -0.2 0.56 0.38
Garnet Hathaway 0.29 0.13 -0.05 -0.16 -0.36
James Neal 0.39 0.23 -0.04 -0.31 NA
Johnny Gaudreau 0.69 0.89 0.38 -0.05 0.38
Juuso Valimaki NA NA NA 1.5 0.07
Mark Giordano 1 -0.44 0.11 0.6 0.64
Mark Jankowski 0.06 0.18 -0.24 -0.41 -0.2
Matthew Tkachuk 1.97 -0.31 -0.47 1.08 -0.12
Michael Frolik 0.17 -0.47 -0.38 0.3 -0.53
Mikael Backlund 1.09 -0.37 0.39 -0.13 0.45
Mike Smith 2.6 1.35 0.5 2.65 -1.05
Noah Hanifin 0.24 0.25 -0.1 -0.93 -1.05
Oscar Fantenberg 0.21 0.08 -0.12 NA NA
Rasmus Andersson 0.98 0.53 0.71 1.21 -0.16
Sam Bennett 1.02 1.43 0.34 -0.56 0.66
Sean Monahan 0.58 1.02 0.8 0.42 0
TJ Brodie -0.21 -0.49 0.88 -0.41 0.86
Travis Hamonic 0.46 0.17 -0.27 -0.7 -0.68


Player Game 1 Game 2 Game 3 Game 4 Game 5
Alexander Kerfoot 0.1 0.86 1.27 0.3 0.44
Cale Makar NA NA 1.15 0.9 1.52
Carl Soderberg 0.05 0.09 0.25 1.59 0.12
Colin Wilson 0.29 0.02 1.19 0.56 2.54
Derick Brassard 0.16 -0.02 NA NA NA
Erik Johnson -0.04 0.18 1.97 -0.23 0.49
Gabriel Bourque 0.07 -0.04 0.56 0.12 0.22
Gabriel Landeskog 0.09 2.38 1.77 1.78 1.12
Ian Cole -0.03 0.89 1.87 0.23 0.12
J.T. Compher 0.02 1 1.07 1 0.22
Matt Calvert 0.08 -0.18 0.46 1.47 0.08
Matt Nieto -0.08 0.89 1.41 0.94 0.59
Mikko Rantanen -0.25 2.1 2.16 2.05 2.97
Nathan MacKinnon 0.13 2.35 2.79 1.37 2.14
Nikita Zadorov -0.55 0.52 1.14 0.07 0.45
Patrik Nemeth -0.42 0.32 0.19 0.87 0.94
Philipp Grubauer 0.55 2 1.2 2 2.05
Samuel Girard 0.54 0.66 NA NA NA
Sven Andrighetto NA NA 0.08 0.01 0.4
Tyson Barrie 0.2 1.62 1.84 1.74 2.3
Tyson Jost 0.09 0.23 1.03 0.25 0.77


  • buts

    MacKinnon was so dominant, fast and quick while double shifting. Zadorov and Cole dominated our small forwards as well. The Flames? They were who we thought they were! Memo to Tre, Monahan, Brodie and frolik have to go.

    • Luter 1

      Cole looked like the Norris winner while Gio lppked his age and then some. There is something about playing aggressive versus passive. Which Cole and the Avs D were very much doing while Gio and the rest of the D were playing very much scared and deep in the zone. Not one true step up hit by a D man.

    • Albertabeef

      “Monahan, Brodie and frolik have to go”, sure why not? Only the three guys least to blame. Gio, Hamonic, Backlund, Lindholm, Tkachuck, and Jankowski are my first targets in the blame game.

      • Albertabeef

        So we don’t blame the guys who were on the ice for all the goals against? Cool. For the record Gio, Hamonic, Backlund, Lindholm, Tkachuck, and Jankowski lead the way for allowing the other team to score.

  • Budgie

    Tampa, Calgary, and Winnipeg gone-finishing high in the regular season is less important than peaking at the right time, St. Louis was in last place, now they are in the second round of playoffs. If the team is hot entering the playoffs then it carries over, Colorado was hot. St. Louis and Colorado both had hot goalies to the rescue. Calgary had every chance to win with Smith playing red hot. Colorado shutdown Calgary’s top line and had extended puck possession with 50 or more shots on net some games. The size of their top line, all large players hard to move off the puck makes me wonder if smaller players are not the best in the playoffs? It did give Colorado the advantage.

      • Budgie

        Smith surprised me, he actually has a decent playoff record and his overall stats reflect playing for Arizona when they were rebuilding but he did lead them into a conference final as Phoenix Coyotes 2012. Smith was solid

        Calgary could have rested Monahan, Bennet, Lindholm,Tkachuk, Gaudreau, and Giordano for a few games after clinching the Division. Bennett was injured for a few games then returned, but he was our best playoff forward. Monahan must have been gassed or hurt-not sure what happened but he wasn’t right. Monahan is still a valuable piece but his playoffs haven’t been great, he was playing injured last season. I am not going to say trade anyone but we do need to counter MacKinnon in the future. Calgary should be ready for his style of play, he is like Conner McDavid-our best counter attackers were Bennett, and Tkachuk-Lindholm started to pick it up. Ryan and Mangiapanne were reliable-and Hathaway is awesome. Defense is deep, perhaps some size needed? Don’t gut the team but make some changes and rest top players before the playoffs. Giordano deserves the Norris-and that Green hard hat should go to Smith for the summer.

  • The GREAT WW

    I hope our First Line and Backlund will be joining the Oilers representing their respective countries at the World’s and score 20 goals each!!!!!!!!!!!!!


      • Albertabeef

        Stajan never scored more than 14 goals or 33 points in Flames silks. Backs is, was, and always will be better than Stajan. I’m willing to give most of the Flames players a break this postseason. Call it a team loss and write it off as a learning experience.

  • First Name Unidentified

    @Bill Tran.

    So what you’re saying is the Avs forwards were better than the Flames forwards and their defence men were better than ours and that’s why they won? Did I get that right? Thanks for clarifying.

  • MDG1600

    Does game score account for match ups? I don’t know much about it but I will guess probably not so I wouldn’t put much stock in it as a tool to identify who the “worst” players were. From 20,000 ft it really shouldn’t be entirely shocking that the team with the least amount of hits in the regular season struggled in the playoffs when the refs put away the whistle and the game becomes entirely different. Many of Calgarys best players in the regular season are either small or not physical (Johnny and Mony) or slow (Tkachuk & Gio). The one guy who is both fast and physical (Bennet) was probably our best player. I don’t advocate breaking up the entire core but I would say the team needs re-tooling with more of a playoff type roster in mind.

      • Luter 1

        Yeah for too many men, tripping, an interference – no penalties for aggressive play and the refs will not call the hooks and slashes like regular season. You will get away with way more aggressive play in the playoffs which nullifies the littler talented guys which equates to zero success for us as one of the more smaller passive teams in the league. This shouldn’t surprise anyone.

  • snotss

    yes the avs were clearly better than the flames during the playoffs with that being said yes the flames clearly choked big time..again the avs were the better team…but to be totally out played!!!! and blow to late third period leads and all the shots on poor mike how can these playoff be any thing but huge “CHOKE” the flames are really good at “CHOKING” take a good look at their playoff record………..it’s pathetic

  • Skylardog

    Not a big fan of game score because it favours the guys that score and does not give credit to the players that have roles, such as shutting down players. While it accounts for blocked shots and other defensive measures, it gives such little weight to categories that they are basically ignored. Hits are not even included, a key part of playoff hockey.

    Having said that, the results are clearly in favour of the Avs, as were the games. But the Avs were not as bad in game one as the game scores say, again, mostly because Smith was so good.

    A summary of the game score for each player would have been nice. What you will find by doing that is that the best player after Smith was Ras, not Bennett. And in a weird (and condemning evaluation of game score), Monahan somehow comes out near the top (I think 4th). He was the only Flame to post game scores at or above zero for all 5 games.

    Any one feel that that accurately reflects what we all witnessed?

    • Albertabeef

      The funny thing is Mony was never really a defensive liability to the team. He was only on the ice for two goals against. He was on the ice for 5 Flames goals(second to Bennett and Brodie) and was a plus 1 overall.

  • Derzie

    I’m a fan of game score. To me it aligns with the eye test pretty nicely.

    Here’s why:
    I took Bill’s numbers into excel. And added a couple of columns
    – Average game score for the series
    – Line #/Pairing # for each player
    – Expected “solid” game score for the Line/Pairing: 1.0 for top line/pair/goalie, 0.5 for 2nd, 0.33 for 3rd, 0.25 for 4th.
    – Player Contribution based on difference between expected and game score average


    Top 3 contributors
    1. Ras
    2. Bennett
    3. Smith

    1. Rantanen
    2. Barrie
    3. Nate

    Bottom 3
    1. Brodie
    2. Hanifin
    3. Hamonic

    1. Johnson
    2. Kerfoot
    3. Brassard

    Looking at the average contributions by team, Calgary was about 35% below expected game score performance and Colorado was about 20% better than expected. Result? Avs in 5.

    No stat is the be all, end all, but I like game score.

    • Porcupine at a balloon party

      “Expecting” Brodie to have a game score of 1 each game is like expecting Neal to compete as a speed skater in the offseason. Love Brodie, but those expectations are a little out of whack. Specifically the top line/pair at 1. Nice work overall though. Based on that criteria though, it’s not tough to see the three top performers where they are. They all played well but were depth guys with lower expectations