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Andrei Kuzmenko has revitalized the Calgary Flames’ power play

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Photo credit:James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports
Mike Wilson
1 month ago
The Calgary Flames have been in ‘small victory’ mode for a long while so let’s take a look at a glimmer of positivity amidst this tank, oops, sorry, stretch drive.
The allure of replacing Kirk Muller’s clunky, one-dimensional man advantage with the offensive savvy mind of former Flame Marc Savard wore off rather quickly to start the 2023-24 campaign.
The Flames offence was sputtering and misfiring on the man advantage to the tune of having the 29th-ranked power play conversion rate heading into the All-Star break.
Enter Andrei Kuzmenko. Despite functioning as a cap dump in the Elias Lindholm trade, the quirky Russian castoff from the Vancouver Canucks has been a shot in the arm to the Flames man advantage.
While the top unit was trending in a more dangerous direction before his arrival, and during his cold spell, Kuzmenko’s skill set and usage have ignited the Flames’ power play of late.
Kuzmenko is a weapon below the hash marks. He can make plays in tight and uses his mesmerizing stickhandling to whip pucks into dangerous areas, even in coverage. This execution of high skill was on display with his setup of Nazem Kadri’s power play marker in a game against the Los Angeles Kings a couple of weeks ago.
His vision low in the offensive zone is likely the basis of Savard moving to the new-look setup featuring Kuzmenko and Jonathan Huberdeau often working from below the goal line. It’s a spot where Kuzmenko thrived during his time in the KHL and with the Canucks last season.
Huberdeau and Kuzmenko worked the behind-the-net setup to perfection against the Edmonton Oilers last Saturday, setting up goals from Yegor Sharangovich and Nazem Kadri.
Forget Gretzky’s office, the Flames have Kuzmenko’s corner.
He doesn’t just distribute from below the circles as he proved with a strong drive to the net against the Anaheim Ducks leading to a goal.
Kuzmenko delays and elusively stickhandles as Kadri makes himself available in the slot. In one quick step, he takes full advantage of the opening created by his deception and propels to the crease to tuck in a beautiful goal.
Before the Kuzmenko addition, the Flames ranked 29th in power play percentage clicking at only 13.8%. Since then the man advantage has climbed to 24.5% good for 11th overall in the league in that period. While it’s still stuck at 26th overall in the league, the power play has been top five since Mar. 1 and, more recently, ranks number one in the league since Mar. 24.
 
(Heatmaps from HockeyViz)
Now, if you poke around under the hood this probably isn’t all Kuzmenko’s doing; as previously stated the power play has been starting to look more dangerous and efficient in general.
Pre-Kuzmenko the power play ranked 14th in the league in quality chances creating 8.32 expected goals per 60 minutes… not as bad as the raw conversion percentage would suggest.
Post-Kuzmenko the Flames’ expected goal rate on the power play has jumped to seventh best in the league at 9.44 per 60 minutes.
While the normalization of shooting percentage has played a role, there is no doubt the Flames have been generating higher-quality scoring chances.
Huberdeau deserves credit here as well. It has taken a while to see results but his impact on the power play has been strong overall.
(Heatmaps from HockeyViz)
He has found some chemistry feeding his old Florida buddy, Mackenzie Weegar, with some crisp passes on the man advantage of late.
Perhaps the Flames have finally found the right mix of personal and execution on the man advantage but the addition of Kuzmenko has been the catalyst for a functional and possibly even dangerous power play.
The man advantage is starting to look like an actual advantage. At a time when small victories are the only thing on the table, the Kuzmenko effect has been an enjoyable story to watch and one that will hopefully carry over into next season.
I’m just glad I no longer have to pull my hair out when it’s time for a Calgary Flames power play.
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