4 positive Calgary Flames trends through October
Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
6 months ago
As we sit on the last day of October, the Flames are seven games into the 2022-23 campaign and are off to a largely positive 5-2-0 start. With a grind of a November schedule ahead, here are four positive foundational trends Calgary can build on heading into the second month of the season.
The Kadri line
I thought Nazem Kadri was going to be a great fit with the Flames. But with how seamless and instant he’s meshed with Calgary, he’s blown my very high expectations out of the water. Along with Andrew Mangiapane and Dillon Dube, Kadri has centered the team’s most consistently impactful line at five-on-five thus far. All advanced metrics courtesy Natural Stat Trick.
I actually think this trio is just scratching the surface of what they’re capable of. Through seven games, Kadri’s line has been given plenty of offensive high ground, which is understandable knowing how dangerous they’ve been. In full stride, though, this group has the potential to be a force at both ends of the ice. The start they’re off to is a good foundation to build on.
The penalty kill
After finishing sixth in the category last season, Calgary’s penalty kill look like it’s picked up where it left off. On the surface, the Flames have been good but not great killing penalties. They’ve allowed five goals on 30 opposing powerplay opportunities, which puts them eighth overall at 83.3%. But a deeper look paints an even clearer picture of how good Calgary’s PK has been.
Looking at their per-60 rates, the Flames have been borderline elite in suppressing shots, attempts, and scoring chances while down a man. Per 60, Calgary ranks first in PK shots against (34.26), second in shot attempts against (70.81), and third in high danger chances against (15.99).
Assistant coach Ryan Huska has gradually improved the penalty kill since joining the Flames coaching staff for 2018-19. With PK horses like Elias Lindholm, Mikael Backlund, Chris Tanev, and Blake Coleman carried over from last season (and beyond), you can understand why Calgary continues to be one of the hardest teams to generate against shorthanded.
The third pairing
Michael Stone has been the number one feel-good story of the fall. His defence partner Nikita Zadorov, and the rapid improvement we’ve seen from him in just over a calendar year, isn’t that far behind. Together, these two have given the Flames great third pairing minutes and are a huge reason why this blueline is considered one of the deepest in the NHL.
On top of the above numbers, Calgary has outscored the opposition 5-1 with Zadorov and Stone on the ice at five-on-five so far. Last year, the Flames were the only team with three defence pairings finishing top ten in even strength minutes played together. With how well Stone and Zadorov have played so far, it’s realistic to see something similar at the end of this season.
If you’ve spent anytime listening to Flames Talk in 2022, you know how much fun I’ve had pounding the Ritchie drum since he re-signed right before training camp. Ritchie was an extremely effective bottom six forward for Calgary last season but, thanks mostly to bad luck, wasn’t rewarded with reflective counting numbers.
Ritchie had three goals and four points in 41 regular season games last year. He has three goals and four points in seven games so far this season doing the exact same things. Ritchie knows his job and makes a positive impact when cast in the proper role. That’s been the case again this season on a line with Milan Lucic and Kevin Rooney and similar effectiveness has been the result.
Ritchie plays a simple and predictable brand of hockey that fits how head coach Darryl Sutter wants this team to play. Sutter preaches shot volume with the puck and relentless, hard pressure away from it. Ritchie, along with his two linemates, do that well and it’s why they’ve been largely successful early on this season.
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