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Why the Calgary Flames power play is having challenges, and what can be done about it

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Photo credit:Brett Holmes-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
16 days ago
Folks, it’s no secret that the Calgary Flames aren’t in love with the performance of their power play so far in 2023-24. We delved into their results previously, and they’re not great. Compared to the rest of the league, and to their own franchise history, their power play isn’t getting the results it needs to get.
So what’s not working, and what can they do about it?
First off, let’s get into some general principles. Power play goals are a result of other stuff. Results are often impacted by sheer randomness – good or bad puck luck, as they say – but they’re generally a reflection of the underlying processes. If a team is getting a lot of shots, a lot of shots from dangerous areas, and moving the puck around well enough to create chaos and confusion, that often results in goals regardless of cold shooters or hot goaltenders.
So how do the Flames’ underlying power play metrics stack up? We’re going to look at this in two different ways, using Natural Stat Trick’s “per 60” shot rate data to compare the Flames this season to the rest of the league, but also to compare this edition of the Flames to previous teams dating back to 2007-08.

Corsi (shot attempts)

Corsi reflects all shots attempted towards the net, regardless of if they hit the net or not. The Flames have 107.01 shot attempts on goal per 60 minutes of PP time. League-wide, that ranks 18th.
Since 2007-08, it ranks 4th (out of 17 seasons). Their best season was 2017-18, with 111.49 shot attempts per 60, while their worst was 2012-13 with 85.28 shot attempts per 60.

Shots on goal

The Flames have 51.91 shots on goal per 60 minutes of PP time. League-wide, that ranks 22nd.
Since 2007-08, it ranks 7th (out of 17 seasons). Their best season was 2021-22, with 64.09 shots per 60, while their worst was 2012-13 with 43.83 shots per 60.

Scoring chances

Scoring chances are defined by Natural Stat Trick as shot attempts from the home plate area (or rush or rebound shot attempts from elsewhere in the offensive zone). The Flames have 53.73 scoring chances per 60. League-wide, that ranks 25th.
Since 2007-08, it ranks 4th (out of 17 seasons). Their best season was 2022-23, with 61.25 scoring chances per 60, while their worst was 2011-12 with 38.49 per 60.

High-danger scoring chances

High-danger scoring chances are defined as shot attempts from the net-front area, or rush chances or rebounds from the home plate area. The Flames have 26.41 high-danger scoring chances per 60. League-wide, that ranks 12th.
Since 2007-08, it ranks 2nd (out of 17 seasons). Their best season was 2017-18, with 27.44 high-dangers per 60, while their worst was 2011-12 with 16.39 per 60.

Expected goals

Essentially, expected goals uses an algorithm to estimate, based on shot location, type and circumstance, how many goals should have been scored by the shots and scoring chances a team generates. The Flames have 8.32 expected goals per 60. League-wide, that ranks 14th.
Since 2007-08, it ranks 2nd (out of 17 seasons). Their best season was 2021-22, with 8.36 expected goals per 60, while their worst was 2012-13 with 5.67 per 60.

Shooting percentage

In theory, systems and processes generate shot attempts, scoring chances and high-danger chances. Puck luck and talent translate shot attempts into shots, and shots into goals. Shooting percentage is arguably the conversion rate. The Flames are shooting 9.21% on their power play, 30th in the NHL.
It’s the lowest PP shooting percentage they’ve had in the 17 years we have detailed data for. (Their best was in 2012-13, when they shot 16.85%.

What stat coincides with high PP conversions?

Looking back at the data, the Flames’ best power play performance was in 2021-22 when they had their best expected goals rate and shot rate of the post-2007-08 period, and finished 10th in the NHL in conversions. It seems reasonable to conclude, based on the available data, that having a lot of shots helps (especially from dangerous areas).
As a bit of an asterisk on our own conclusions, though, let’s also point out the absolute murderer’s row of talented players the Flames had on their power play in 2021-22. The top unit regularly trotted out Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm, Rasmus Andersson, and one of Noah Hanifin or Andrew Mangiapane. I don’t think you can quantify the impact of having high levels of talent on being able to convert on power play opportunities at key times in the game.
That said, the Flames’ power play in 2021-22 was actually slightly below league average in shooting percentage; they scored so much on the power play because of shot volume and quality.

They said it

Prior to the Flames’ final game before the All-Star break, we asked Flames head coach Ryan Huska about what the power play needs to do to be more effective.
“I’ve mentioned before, I think it needs to have more of a five-on-five mentality, and it needs to work harder when it doesn’t have pucks. That’s one thing that jumps out at me a lot. The second thing, the one unit in particular, there has to be someone that grabs hold of it. So, we need someone to grab hold of that unit – whether it’s Naz, Huby, Lindy, whoever it may be – somebody’s got to grab hold of that unit and make sure that they’re doing the things that they have to do to be a better power play.”
Later in the press conference, we asked about what he meant by a ‘five-on-five mentality.’
“Like the goal that we gave up last game [against Columbus]. We had a number of people stand and watch when there’s a little bit of trouble or the puck’s sort of up for grabs, instead of being responsible and working harder in those type of situations. If there’s a loose puck or we change sides on the power play in the offensive zone and someone gets it, how do the other four guys move across to support him? Are their feet planted or are they working hard to get over there? That’s to me what it comes down to.”
We also asked similar questions to Flames captain Mikael Backlund and alternate captain Jonathan Huberdeau at the time. Huberdeau mentioned execution and being on the same page, while Backlund specifically mentioned attacking the net more and shooting more pucks to create rebounds and confusion – citing the approaches he finds challenging when he’s on the penalty kill.
Based on what the data suggests, Backlund may be onto something. They’re definitely battling some tough shooting percentages – and whether that’s due to bad puck luck or a less talented team than in prior years can be debated – but history suggests that low shooting percentages tend to rebound, and can be overcome through sheer volume of shots. Combine that with supporting the shooter by crashing the net for rebounds and creating chaos, and maybe the Flames can turn things around on their power play in their final 33 games of 2023-24.
What does the Flames’ power play needs to do to score more goals? Is a consistent shooting mentality enough? Or do they need to make more structural or personnel changes to their approach? Let us know in the comments!

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