Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Calgary Flames fans should have cautious optimism after overtime loss to Bruins
11 months ago
Inconsistency has been the trademark of the 2022-23 season for the Calgary Flames. There have been games against bad teams where they should have won and were predicted to win, but they shot themselves in the foot. There have also been games against some of the better teams in the NHL (or, in this case, the best team in the NHL) that they competed well in and should have won but didn’t come out on the right side of things.
The latter happened in a big game against the Boston Bruins. One of the most entertaining games I have watched all season long ended in heartbreak for the Flames, despite them being the dominant team throughout the entire game. Let’s recap the game quickly before diving into the “cautious optimism” part of this piece.
First, everyone, including the Flames, knew this would be a tough test. The Bruins are obscenely good, having only lost 8 games in regulation to this point out of the 60 total games they’ve played. But Calgary brought the heat, no pun intended. They ended the game with 57 shots on goal and a ridiculous 93 total shot attempts against goaltender Linus Ullmark, amassing almost 6.00 expected goals to Boston’s 20 shots on goal, 41 attempts, and 3.00 expected goals.
The Flames were getting shots from pretty much anywhere on the ice one could think of shooting from. Their penetration of the slot was very good; they were moving well through the neutral zone, and the only thing that kept the Bruins in the game was their goaltender and the Flames’ goaltending, which once again wasn’t good enough with Dan Vladar giving up two goals on the first five shots of the game. I think the chart below perfectly represents how lopsided this game was visually.
Calgary Flames vs. Boston Bruins February 28th, 2023 Natural Stat Trick heat map
The Flames losing in overtime was almost predictable, given how things have gone for them over 2022-23. I wrote about their overtime woes resulting from bad decision-making, and Charlie McAvoy’s winner perfectly represented that sentiment. Two Flames followed the puck carrier Brad Marchand behind the net, and Elias Lindholm was nowhere to be found, so McAvoy was alone to fire away at Jacob Markstrom, which he capitalized on.
Looking back on this game more than 24 hours after the benches cleared, it’s still impossible to look at the result and not think the Flames deserved better. They had a 71.37 expected goals for percentage over 64:55 of hockey! And if Calgary can play like that against easily the best team in the regular season, which is to say they couldn’t beat any team in the Western Conference in the post-season?
Of course, that’s the optimism part of the equation. The caution comes with the fact that for the Flames to beat any team in the Western Conference in a seven-game playoff series, they would have to play that well for more than just one game. And I believe that would be easier or at least more reliable than the goaltending this season being better from Vladar or Markstrom.
In the end, the Flames showed us what they were capable of against the Bruins, even though the game resulted in a loss. However, even though that may inspire some good thoughts coming into the trade deadline, it will take many more games like that to convince anyone that they’re a contender even to win a round in the post-season.
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