The Calgary Flames need to (and likely will) get much better at holding onto leads

Photo credit:Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Mike Gould
1 year ago
These days, something strange tends to happen whenever the Calgary Flames take a lead: they typically lose it shortly thereafter.
The Flames don’t always let their opponents climb back. Back on Oct. 25, they shot out to a 3–0 lead against the Pittsburgh Penguins and ended up cruising to a 4–1 victory. All in all, it was a pretty stress-free game.
But lately, that’s been far from the norm. The Flames have now allowed 17 game-tying goals in 17 games this season. On Saturday afternoon against the Florida Panthers, they gave up three in just two periods.
It’s been a recurring theme for the Flames to start the 2022–23 regular season. Even in their recent seven-game losing streak, the Flames scored the first goal six times — but they gave up a league-leading nine game-tying goals over that stretch.
For whatever reason, the Flames have just collapsed this season when they have any lead. When focusing specifically on one-goal leads, their numbers become truly dreadful.
The Flames have been outscored 17–7 in all situations when leading by one goal. That’s a goals-for percentage of just 29.17 compared to an expected goals percentage of 47.30. (That’s all situations xGF% — their 5v5 xGF% when leading by one is 48.19, so not much different).
While their 5v5 xGF% when leading by one is merely mediocre, their actual goal differential has been absolutely horrific. There’s no way that will continue for the rest of the season, or even until Christmas.
Yes, giving up 17 game-tying goals in 17 games is terrible. That’s the most allowed by any NHL team. (The Flames have also given up 12 game-tying goals at even strength, second only to Vegas — although the Golden Knights have spent considerably more time leading).
But Jacob Markstrom is just not going to continue playing at this level forever. With the Flames leading by one at 5v5 this season, Markstrom has posted an .847 save percentage. None of the goals he allowed on Saturday were all that bad, but he’s almost certainly going to start locking things down again in the near future.
Here’s a season-by-season look at Markstrom’s save percentage at 5v5 when his team has led by one goal:
  • 2015–16: .933
  • 2016–17: .897
  • 2017–18: .933
  • 2018–19: .899
  • 2019–20: .899
  • 2020–21: .921
  • 2021–22: .921
  • 2022–23: .847
Even at his worst, Markstrom has always been significantly better at preserving leads than he is right now. He hasn’t even always been good in those situations, but this is a whole new level of catastrophe — and it’s almost certainly unsustainable.
Right now, the Flames can’t get a save when they’re up by a goal. They also can’t score.
As a team, they’re shooting 6.09 percent in all situations when leading by one. That’s the second-worst mark in the entire league, ahead of only the 3.45 posted by the bottom-feeding Anaheim Ducks.
Generally speaking, the Flames have been playing solid (if unspectacular) hockey at 5v5 when defending a lead. They’ve outshot their opponents all year long in that game situation, although they’ve been slightly outchanced. Nothing worth writing home about, either way.
But the bounces have been ghastly. Markstrom’s body of work suggests he’ll be much better going forward when the Flames need him to hold onto a lead. One of these days, the likes of Andrew Mangiapane, Jonathan Huberdeau, Dillon Dube, and MacKenzie Weegar will start scoring regularly again.
Make no mistake, it’s demoralizing to continually allow game-tying goals. Some of the ones the Flames have conceded this year have been full-on backbreakers. It’s easy to see how something like that could spiral into a pattern.
They’ll snap out of it one of these days. While they could certainly stand to add another finisher or two, the Flames’ existing forward group certainly has the talent to score more in all situations. Markstrom was a Vezina finalist six months ago for a reason.
Frustrating? Yes. Fatal? Hardly. If anything, it’s a problem that’ll likely resolve itself with time. But for now, it’s worth keeping an eye on.

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