On Tuesday night, the Calgary Flames completed the first quarter of their regular season schedule (20 games) with a 5-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. By virtue of their 12-3-5 record, their 29 points, and a .725 points percentage, the Flames finish their first quarter in first place in the National Hockey League’s Western Conference. (League-wide, they trail only Carolina and Florida.)
20 games down, 62 left to go.
We’ll dive into the guts of the Flames’ performances in the next little while – Shane “Flash” Stevenson will get into the first quarter stats and after Saturday’s game we’ll have our third seven game segment rundown – but the most common question we’ve gotten on Twitter, from friends and family, and from strangers on the concourse is whether the Flames are actually this good.
So far, the numbers point to “yes.”
Looking at underlying five-on-five numbers from Natural Stat Trick at a “per 60 minutes” basis (to balance out teams that have played more or fewer games than Calgary), they stack up nicely:
- 11th in most expected goals for (per 60) with 2.41
- 9th in fewest expected goals against (per 60) with 2.09
- 3rd in most scoring chances for (per 60) with 30.76
- 2nd in fewest scoring chances for (per 60) with 23.1
- 21st in most high-danger scoring chances for (per 60) with 10.48
- 6th in fewest high-danger scoring chances against (per 60) with 9.23
Aside from their below-average generation of high-danger chances – which is likely a product of teams trying to out-structure their system by clogging up the middle of the ice in the offensive zone – the Flames are one of the better teams at generating offensive looks and at preventing the other team from generating those looks. The process is sound.
In terms of what that process leads to, the team is 14th in shooting percentage (7.9%) and 1st in save percentage (95.55%) at five-on-five. They’re out-scoring the opposition (per 60) on a 2.70 to 1.26 basis. The shooting percentage is definitely sustainable – average numbers are sustainable by definition usually – but their save percentage will inevitably back-slide a little bit.
On special teams, their process numbers (per 60) stack up like this:
- 13th in most PP expected goals for (per 60) with 6.87
- 12th in most PP scoring chances for (per 60) with 55.29
- 13th in most PP high-danger scoring chances for (per 60) with 21.87
- 5th in fewest PK expected goals against (per 60) with 5.29
- 4th in fewest PK scoring chances against (per 60) with 42.83
- 1st in fewest PK high-danger scoring chances against (per 60) with 12.69
Their PP is in the top of the middle of the NHL pack, which seems sustainable, while their PK is one of the stingiest in the NHL. Thus far, they’re out-scoring the opposition on a collective per 60 basis on special teams 9.57 to 4.84. They’re full marks for both.
For the curious, here’s a rundown of the 20-game mark from the last five Flames seasons, via Hockey Reference (and yes, we know they only played 56 games last season so it was closer to half-way than a quarter in):
They’re significantly ahead of their pace from even the best of their past five seasons at this point.
Throughout training camp, alternate captain Matthew Tkachuk (among other Flames players) emphasized the need for a good start, acknowledging that the team has spent too much time behind the eight-ball over the past several seasons.
“We’re in a good spot right now, top of the division,” said Tkachuk after Tuesday’s win. “But since I’ve been here, we haven’t had a good start and followed that up with a good stretch ’til Christmas so hopefully we can do that now.”
The Flames have 14 games until their Christmas break including, six games against Pacific Division opponents and a Dec. 9 visit from the powerhouse Hurricanes. They’re off to a great start, but we’ll get a good sense of their mettle over the next month.
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