Analyzing why the Calgary Flames haven’t gotten results in close games

Photo credit:Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
1 year ago
Folks, it goes without saying that the Calgary Flames have played in a lot of tight hockey games this season. According to the National Hockey League’s own stats, the Flames have played in 32 games decided by a single goal this season. (That stat leads the league, with five more than the nearest team.)
How well (or not) the Flames have done in one goal games is one of their big challenges this season.
According to the NHL, the Flames are 12-9-11 in their one-goal games. (Put another way, they’ve gotten victories in 12 of 32 one-goal games they’ve played.)
If you factor in games that would have been one-goal games if not for empty netters, add another four to the total, That puts their record at 14-11-11, which means they’ve won 14 of the 36 games they’ve played that have been decided by one goal (and empty-netters).
14 of 36 is 39%. Heck, even if you’re just looking at points percentages, they’ve captured just 54.1% of available points in these situations. When a .600 clip for the season is expected to be roughly the mark that gets you into the playoffs, that’s not at the level it needs to be at.
So why isn’t it?

Some situational stats (via Natural Stat Trick)

Situation5v5 TOI/GPxGF/60xGA/60SH%SV%
Down 18:052.85 (15th)2.61 (15th)7.5 (23rd)90.8 (19th)
Tied17:393.06 (5th)2.21 (3rd)8.4 (14th)90.6 (29th)
Up 18:382.79 (12th)2.54 (4th)8.1 (23rd)87.9 (31st)
So what’s going on here?
When the Flames are chasing in a game (down one goal), they’re an average hockey club in terms of preventing and generating expected goals. Their shooting and save percentages are below average, though, so they’re neither scoring or saving at an average rate..They’re out-scoring teams 21-17 in this situation, but they should be further ahead based on how much they’re generating
When they’re tied, they’re really good in terms of preventing and generating expected goals. They finish at an average rate, but their goaltending is bad. They’re out-scoring their opponents 50-37, which is good, but they need to score at a higher rate than they are in order to out-score their goaltending’s foibles.
When they’re up a goal, they’re average offensively but very good defensively. But again: they can’t finish or make a save in that situation. They’re being out-scored 21-27. They cannot pull away in these game situations and give themselves any breathing room.
Collectively, when the Flames are within one goal, they’re out-scoring their opponents 92-81, which sounds good. But that goal differential (+11) isn’t amazing in the context of how many one-goal games they’ve played, which is more than anybody else.
Fundamentally-speaking, the Flames are doing just fine in close game situations, and they should actually be one of the best one-goal game teams in the NHL based on how their underlying numbers look in close game situations. And by that we mean: they’re generating expected goals for and they’re preventing expected goals against. That’s what the skaters are supposed to do. But perhaps due to their system, or perhaps due to their personnel, they’re not finishing at a league average level. Moreover, their goaltending is performing at well below a league average level, which compounds their finishing challenges.
In short: everything that frustrates fans and analysts about the 2022-23 Flames as a whole can be found encapsulated in their play when they’re up a goal, down a goal, or tied. The overall shape of their game is quite good, but the details of their game – their ability to score that one extra goal or make that one extra save – just aren’t where they need them to be.
And time is running low for them to get to that level.

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