There are a few important, and in some cases unexpected, constants that have been central to Calgary’s outstanding start to the season. At 13-4-5, the Flames ended the month of November on top of the Western Conference as one of the NHL’s most pleasant surprises. So how many of their early season trends are sustainable going forward? Let’s take a look.
The five-on-five game
Through 22 games, Calgary has been one of the league’s best even strength teams by numerous metrics. They have the puck a lot and don’t give up much, which has been the team’s main recipe for success. As a result, the Flames are a top three team in five-on-five possession, expected goals, and high danger scoring chances. Metrics courtesy Natural Stat Trick.
|CF%||League rank||xGF%||League rank||HDCF%||League Rank|
Calgary’s five-on-five game is the main reason I don’t see their results falling completely off a cliff as the season goes on. And, encouragingly, the Flames have posted impressive metrics thanks largely to the consistency of their play. For instance, Calgary has lost the possession battle just six times in 22 games this year; they’ve been negative in high danger chances on only five occasions.
Verdict: Sustainable. The Flames have bought in to a specific brand of hockey they need to play under Darryl Sutter. As Saturday against Winnipeg showed us, they’re not going to win every time they play that way. But if Calgary continues to execute as consistently as they have, they’ll win more games than they lose.
The top line
The Flames have been driven this season by a top forward line playing elite hockey. Elias Lindholm, Johnny Gaudreau, and Matthew Tkachuk have formed one of the NHL’s best trios in all aspects. Yes, they’re scoring at a high level, but Calgary’s top line is getting the job done effectively in all three zones.
As a line, Gaudreau, Tkachuk, and Lindholm have outscored the opposition 15-2 at five-on-five and boast staggering underlying metrics. Per Evolving Hockey, the line’s 60.9% possession rate ranks third in the league amongst lines with 100 minutes or more together; they rank second in expected goals at 65.9%. This all comes against top competition and with an offensive zone start ratio straddling 50%.
Verdict: Sustainable. This trio was put together in the final month of last season and picked up where they left off. At just over 259 minutes, no trio has played together more than Tkachuk, Lindholm, and Gaudreau so far this year. Sure, they might have a couple dry spells as the year goes on, but I see no reason why this line can’t remain one of the league’s best.
All those shutouts
For the Flames to post seven shutouts in their first 19, and now 22, games remains one of the craziest stats I can remember. When Dan Vladar blanked the Bruins on November 21st, Calgary did something that hadn’t been done since the late 1920’s when forward passing wasn’t allowed. With three more games played since, it’s still hard to wrap your head around.
Lots has gone into recording these seven shutouts. The goaltending tandem of Vladar and Jacob Markstrom has been elite, with the latter leading the league with five shutouts. The aforementioned team game has allowed the Flames to make life easy on their goaltenders. And, let’s be honest…a healthy dose of good luck plays into it, too.
Verdict: Not sustainable. As a stat, shutouts are too random for Calgary to keep posting one every three games. Monday’s win over Pittsburgh is a great example. The Flames were rock solid five-on-five and allowed just four high danger chances all night. Nonetheless, the Penguins found a way to score a powerplay goal on a dialled in Markstrom to break the shutout bid.
Monday saw the Flames open the scoring for a league leading 18th time, upping their record to 13-2-3 in those games. As such, it shouldn’t be surprising to know Calgary has played with a lead for 663:38, more than any other team in the league. Knowing how well the Flames have played while leading, this trend can’t be overlooked when evaluating their success so far.
Verdict: Somewhat sustainable. I doubt Calgary will continue scoring first 82% of the time, but it doesn’t mean this trend is a complete fluke. The Flames have made “starting on time” a major focal point this year, and I don’t see that part changing.
The overtime record
Getting Monday’s game to a shootout was a small win for Calgary. It was the seventh time this season the Flames have had a game go beyond regulation, but just the first to go the entire 65 minutes. With a 1-5 record in games decided at three-on-three, not losing in the five minute overtime period is a small step forward.
Calgary’s overtime struggles this year have been hard figure out, specifically knowing how good they’ve been in recent years. Prior to this season, the Flames had a 0.617 winning percentage in overtime at 29-18; at 1-5 this year, they’re at 0.167.
Verdict: Not sustainable. Calgary has too much talent, and too strong a recent track record, to keep losing five out of every six times they go to overtime. Monday showed positive signs, too, as some new three-man combinations helped the Flames dictate for most of the five minutes.