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Looking at potential ways to fix the Calgary Flames’ top power play unit

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Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Robert Munnich
2 months ago
As we all know, this edition of the Calgary Flames is having a hard time scoring goals. It’s quite the change of pace from last season when the Flames finished sixth in the NHL in goals for and it was the most any Flames team have scored in the post 2004 lockout era.
The Flames currently rank 22nd in goals for. The surprising part is that they rank ninth in xGF/60 (expected goals per 60 minutes played), and 13th in GF/60 (goals per 60 minutes played) at 5 on 5. Even strength scoring has been in the top half of the NHL.
Calgary is also tied for first in the NHL in shorthanded goals with 4. But where they are really struggling is on the power play, which is killing them right now. The Flames are tied for 24th in the NHL in power-play goals scored with 14, and 24th in power-play percentage at 18.9%.
The first power play unit of Jonathan Huberdeau, Elias Lindholm, Nazem Kadri, Tyler Toffoli, and Rasmus Andersson has struggled. There is plenty of talent to work with there but, for some reason, they are not clicking as a five-man unit. You could describe that power play unit as stationary, perimeter-based, and not dangerous.
Let’s take a look at some video from Thursday night’s game.
The Flames’ top unit has a 1-3-1 setup with one at the point, three across the middle of the ice, and one net front/goal line player.
In every one of these examples, the Flames are moving the puck around the outside of the offensive zone. There are little to no clean attempts to get the puck to the slot for a shot on net. Every shot is from the outside by Toffoli, or at the top of the blueline from Andersson. There aren’t many screens on those shots either which can make them non effective.
Teams that have a great 1-3-1 power play formation usually have 4-5 set plays to set up scoring chances.
Those include:
  • Shots from the point with layers of traffic in front
  • One timers from just above the faceoff dots from players with a strong one timer (Alex Ovechkin, Elias Pettersson, Jack Eichel, etc.)
  • One timers from the slot. Passes coming in from the half wall
  • Low to high passes from the goal line to the slot for a quick shot (Tkachuk feeding Monahan in the past as an example)
The Flames are using only two of these. They are Andersson shooting from the point with layers of traffic and Toffoli shooting from the outside. Unfortunately, both Andersson and Toffoli don’t have a good enough shots to make this an effective play for the Flames.
The Flames have had a difficult time making clean cross ice passes and passes into the slot. Is it their tactics? Is it their personnel? It looks like a bit of both right now.
They are missing multiple players with great vision and creativity like they had last season in Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk. Huberdeau has been hit and miss in this department. And none of Toffoli, Lindholm or Kadri are natural play makers.
Because of the lack of play making ability, I would like to see the Flames top unit simplify their power play set up. I would propose replacing Tyler Toffoli with Michael Stone.
Stone has the hardest, most chaotic shot on the team. It may be crazy to say this, but right now he might be the most dangerous shooter on the Flames for their power play. One option would be to run the power play through Stone’s one timer and get bodies to the net.
Here are some examples of Stone using his slap shot on the power play.

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This goal against the Oilers is at 5 on 5 and look at the chaos that ensues from Stone’s slap shot. He breaks an Oiler stick. An Oiler blocks the next shot. And then he finally scores.

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Stone’s one timer and slap shot creates fear in the eyes of penalty killers, and chaos in front of the opposing net. Not only is Stone’s shot effective on it’s own, but he can also use it as a decoy to suck defenders into him, potentially opening passing lanes for his linemates.
After a while, opposing penalty killers will realize how hard Stones shot is, and potentially not want to block it. Look what happened to Kaiden Guhle at the end of the Flames/Canadiens game on Thursday night.
The Flames will be better off with Stone on the left flank on the power play than Toffoli. Toffoli is a great shooter from the slot and has good hands in tight. But he hasn’t been effective from the left flank shooting one timers and wrist shots from bad angles. Stone, on the other hand, could unload missiles from that spot, creating fear in the eyes on the penalty killers and actually being able to beat goalies with the pure velocity of his shot.
The first power play unit needs a new look. Michael Stone could be the guy to get it going again.

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