Face-offs remain key for the Flames in their battle with the Oilers
Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
By Ryan Pike6 months ago
The Calgary Flames have played two post-season games with the Edmonton Oilers thus far. Both were played at the Saddledome where the Flames have last change, and have the ability to select which of their centres will face which of Edmonton’s. In Game 1, the Flames won just shy of half of their draws. In Game 2, they won two-thirds.
The Flames will need to stay hot at the dot if they want to leave Edmonton with a series tie or lead after the next two games. Here’s a glance at how they’ve performed so far.
The Flames won just 47% of their face-offs, including 46% at even strength. (Positively, they won 57% of their power play draws and 50% when killing penalties.)
Elias Lindholm had a good Game 1 overall, but had some troubles against Leon Draisaitl and Derek Ryan. Mikael Backlund was pretty good against everybody. Calle Jarnkrok had a tough time with Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, while Trevor Lewis only faced Ryan McLeod and lost that battle. One Oilers game came off a face-off, with Draisaitl beating Lindholm early in the third period, leading to Kailer Yamamoto’s goal after McDavid’s initial scoring chance.
Looking at how the two teams managed centres after icings, you can see how the teams chased particular match-ups. The Oilers iced the puck four times, and the Flames had Backlund take three draws (mostly against Draisaitl) and Lewis one. The Flames iced the puck eight times, and the Oilers put the top line out for seven of them (Draisaitl took six draws, McDavid one) and Nugent-Hopkins took one. The Oilers really tried to get Draisaitl out against Jarnkrok and Lindholm as often as possible.
The Flames were much better in Game 2 on draws, winning 67% of their face-offs. They won 68% at even strength and 88% on the power play, but just 38% on the penalty kill.
It seems like two things happened in Game 2: everybody was a little bit better at the dot, the Flames leaned more heavily on Lindholm and Backlund for key draws, and they were a bit more strategic in how they used their bottom two forward lines in face-off situations. Case in point: Lewis only ever faced Ryan, while Jarnkrok was used a bit throughout the Oilers lineup but not against anybody in particular. The Flames scored one goal off a face-off, with Lewis beating Ryan and Brett Ritchie scoring off a rebound from Erik Gudbranson’s point shot.
One thing that perhaps contributed to Calgary’s success was icings. After the Flames iced the puck eight times in Game 1, it happened just one in Game 2. After the Oilers iced it four times in Game 1, they did it five times in Game 2. The Flames tended to keep whoever drew the icing out on the ice – it was usually Backlund’s line – but put Lindholm and Jarnkrok out once each as well.
Overall, the Flames have two centres who are doing really well on face-offs and two that are doing okay, but not overwhelming anybody.
Based on this, what could we expect in Game 3 and 4 in Edmonton (where the Oilers will have last change)? If we’re Jay Woodcroft chasing favourable face-off situations and nothing else, we’re trying to get Draisaitl out against Lindholm (or Lewis), McDavid out against Jarnkrok, McLeod against Lewis, and Ryan against Lindholm – though strategically putting their fourth line against Calgary’s top line isn’t something that would be smart. (Nugent-Hopkins is losing the face-off battle against three of Calgary’s four centres, but hasn’t faced Lewis yet, so that might be a match-up they chase, too.)
With McDavid playing out of his mind and puck possession (and puck management) arguably more important than against any other opponent, the Flames will need to maintain their strong Game 2 performances throughout the rest of this series.
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