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The Calgary Flames chase the elusive complete 60-minute game

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Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
1 month ago
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The Calgary Flames beat the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night, winning for the fifth time in six games to start the season. The victory set a record for the fastest five wins to start a season in franchise history and tied a 44-year-old record for the fastest they’ve gotten to 10 points.
But most of the talk following Tuesday’s game revolved around improvements the Flames could be making.
Head coach Darryl Sutter conceded after the victory that the team didn’t log a complete (60 minute) game.
“I think we have lots to do,” said Sutter. “We gave up 20 shots in the second period. Think that’s close to a sixty minute?”
Through six games, the Flames have found ways to win despite not being a particularly stellar five-on-five team. Via Natural Stat Trick, the Flames’ 2.61 expected goals against (per 60 minutes) at five-on-five ranks 15th in the league, and that’s reflected in the club’s scoring chances performance so far (also via Natural Stat Trick):
  • Colorado: scoring chances 22-14 Flames, high-danger chances 8-6 Flames, won 5-3
  • Edmonton: scoring chances 27-21 Flames, high-danger chances 11-9 Flames, won 4-3
  • Vegas: scoring chances 25-13 Flames, high-danger chances 10-2 Flames, won 3-2
  • Buffalo: scoring chances 33-31 Flames, high-danger chances 8-7 Sabres, lost 6-3
  • Carolina: scoring chances 30-7 Hurricanes, high-danger chances 12-1 Hurricanes, won 3-2 in overtime
  • Pittsburgh: scoring chances 25-21 Penguins, high-danger chances 12-11 Flames, won 4-1
Suffice it to say, the Flames probably feel like they haven’t fully played their game yet. Their game against Vegas was probably their closest, but the scoring chance totals were skewed by a really good single period, and the game was close because their goaltending wasn’t great early in that game. Since that game, it’s been three consecutive games with them giving up way too much defensively, though Jacob Markstrom’s return to form late against Carolina and in the full Pittsburgh game definitely helped make up for the defensive leakiness.
But the Flames’ past performances, as recently as last season, likely fuel confidence that the Flames can tidy up their defensive game and control games more thoroughly. Based on stats from Natural Stat Trick, the 2021-22 Flames out-chanced their opponents at five-on-five 58 times (and had two-thirds of the game’s scoring chances 11 times), and had the majority of high-danger chances at five-on-five 52 times (and two-thirds of the game’s high-danger chances 18 times).
Compared to last season, the Flames are fairly close to the same offensively – their expected goals for (per 60) has dropped slightly, from 2.79 to 2.74. Defensively, their numbers are appreciably down: from 2.29 expected goals against (per 60) last season up to 2.61 this season. They’re definitely less strong defensively, but their numbers have definitely been skewed by the quality of the opposition they’ve faced early on: Colorado, Edmonton, Carolina and Pittsburgh have been openly discussed by pundits in league previews as potential Stanley Cup contenders.
Speaking after the Flames’ victory on Tuesday, Flames centre Nazem Kadri acknowledged the need to tidy things up (and the discourse following wins focusing on improvements).
“I think that’s just the perfectionist in the coaching staff,” said Kadri. “Just always wanting the guys to be better, and we want better for ourselves as well. We hold ourselves to a high standard in here and we understand it’s a rollercoaster ride throughout the course of the season. It’s definitely more enjoyable getting wins.”
The Flames have played an imperfect brand of hockey so far. But they’ve also managed to find ways to win, and remain confident that their best hockey is yet to come.

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