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Trending Report: Much of what Calgary has accomplished is sustainable

Gaudreau Tkachuk
Photo credit:Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports
Pat Steinberg
9 months ago
The Flames have been one of this season’s pleasant surprises, even amongst their group of fans. With the league well into the second half of the 2021-22 campaign, and with Calgary approaching the same mark, nothing suggests this team is poised for a significant drop-off.
The Flames likely need an addition or two to start playing with heavy hitters like Carolina, Colorado, Florida, or Tampa. But the first half of Calgary’s season has given us plenty of positive evidence they’ll be a tough, competitive team for the final three months of the season. Like we did a quarter of the way through, let’s analyze a few of the trends that have helped the Flames to a 21-13-6 record through 40 games.

The top line

There’s only one word we can use to describe Calgary’s top trio of Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, and Matthew Tkachuk: elite. If this hasn’t been the NHL’s best line, it ranks top two or three at worst, and I don’t know how anyone can argue. No line in the NHL has played more together at five-on-five and their even strength outputs are outstanding across the board. Line data courtesy Evolving Hockey.
TOIRankGF%RankxGF%RankCF%Rank
478:451st79.491st63.173rd59.912nd
Making the case for this top line even more is the fact there’s zero sheltering going on. They have a 54.1% offensive zone start ratio and are taking on top competition every single night. To contrast, the league’s top line in possession and expected goals is Boston’s Perfection Line (Marchand-Bergeron-Pastranak), which has an OZS of 65.9%. Dallas’s line of Robertson-Hintz-Pavelski is ranked second in expected goals, but also boasts a 68.7% OZS.
Verdict: Sustainable. The Flames have had Gaudreau, Tkachuk, and Lindholm together for all but about two periods this season. What would lead us to believe anything is going to change?

Five-on-five play

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Calgary has established a few standards in how they play under Darryl Sutter this season. They have the puck a lot, they fire a lot of pucks towards the net, and they make it difficult for opposing teams to gain the middle and create from high danger areas. That’s why it’s not surprising to see the Flames near the top of the league when looking at most five-on-five metrics. Data courtesy Natural Stat Trick.
TeamCF%TeamxGF%TeamHDCF%
Florida55.87Boston56.35Tampa Bay56.84
Carolina55.03Florida55.27Boston56.23
Calgary54.97Calgary55.16Calgary56.06
Los Angeles54.12Toronto54.89New Jersey55.70
Boston53.72Carolina53.77Carolina54.69
Verdict: Sustainable. Much like the top line, what would suggest any of Calgary’s five-on-five success is going to fall off a cliff? You can absolutely make the argument the Flames are in need of more finish, and thus more high end talent to plug into the top six. But the WAY they’re playing is something I expect to continue. It’s also a brand of hockey that’s successful come playoff time.

The penalty kill

On display in their most recent win over the Canucks, Calgary’s penalty kill has been one of the league’s best all season. Led by a top unit consisting of Lindholm, Mikael Backlund, Chris Tanev, and Erik Gudbranson, the Flames are aggressive in denying entries, make it hard to gain the middle, and do an effective job clogging shot lanes.
TeamPK%
Carolina88.9
Pittsburgh88.2
St. Louis84.3
Calgary83.8
San Jose83.5
Verdict: Sustainable. Sometimes a team’s PK% can be misleading and buoyed by bounces and outlier goaltending. First off, Jacob Markstrom’s 0.877 shorthanded save percentage is strong but not otherworldly. More importantly, Calgary allows just 15.4 four-on-five high danger chances per 60 minutes. That ranks them fourth overall, behind New Jersey, Dallas, and Carolina.

Shutouts

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Markstrom has a league-leading seven of them. Dan Vladar has two of his own. Count ’em up and the Flames are on pace to set a new modern era record for team shutouts in a season at just over 18. That pace would also rank Calgary second all-time behind only the 1928-29 Montréal Canadiens (22). The top five modern-day (starting with 1967-68) team shutout totals are below.
TeamSeasonShutouts
Chicago1969-7015
St. Louis2011-1215
Chicago1971-7214
Montréal1976-7714
New Jersey2003-0414
Verdict: Unsustainable. Shutouts can be very random, so to suggest Calgary’s pace from the first 40 games can carryover into the second half would be a giant reach. I will say, however, with the way the Flames limit chances and shots, they’ve got a decent chance to make their way onto the table above.

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