Back on Jan. 13, the Calgary Flames laid an egg at home against the Ottawa Senators. The Flames were hosting their first game at the Saddledome in a month and we summed up their game like this: “…their execution was sorely, sorely lacking, and they just couldn’t get out of their own way.”
In the 10 games since that lowlight, the Flames have been one of the NHL’s better teams. Let’s dive into what we can take away from the club’s seeming return to form over the past month or so.

Team-wide trends

On the aggregate, the Flames have been excellent. In 600 minutes of game time, they’ve only trailed for 95 minutes. They’ve out-scored the opposition by a 42-19 margin and have posted an 8-2-0 record. Their wins have come against some good teams, too: four of their eight wins (St. Louis, Vegas, Toronto and Florida) have come against teams currently in playoff spots.
At five-on-five, the Flames have posted a 59.8% expected goals for, 62.3% scoring chances for and 66.7% high-danger chances for. They have the puck a ton and have tended to do some very smart, dangerous things with that puck.
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Their special teams have been sharp, too: their power play has scored seven times while their penalty kill has only allowed three goals – and two of those were in a single game against Edmonton.
They’ve scored first seven times, and led after the first and second periods six times.
They’ve won games in different ways:
  • Their 1-0 overtime win over Vancouver, while lacking in thrills and excitement, was a test of their focus as they held serve with a very structured and stubborn Canucks team.
  • Their 4-3 win over Dallas was their first comeback win of the year, coming after they trailed 3-1 after two periods.
  • Their 5-2 win over Toronto saw them deluged with shots from the Leafs – the first time they had been out-shot since their loss to Ottawa – but saw them take advantage of some lapses by the other team.
  • They also had a bunch of games where they led all the way through, and carried a strong start through to a fairly unencumbered victory.
Their two losses were:
  • Getting into penalty trouble against Edmonton and letting an early lead get erased by two Oilers PP goals – a very similar script to their opening game loss to Edmonton, actually.
  • Facing a rested St. Louis team on the second half of a back-to-back and just making a few errors on the road against a good Blues squad.

The goalies

The good: Jacob Markstrom has been superb, posting seven wins, three shutouts, a .932 five-on-five save percentage and a .934 all situations save percentage.
The bad: While the 10 game run has been broken up by a few off-days and the All-Star Break, Markstrom has played all but 20 minutes – Dan Vladar played the third period in Dallas in relief and won, but wasn’t really tested much. If you’re hoping for a fresh Markstrom for the playoffs, the Flames probably need to work Vladar in more.
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The blueline pairings

The good: If we’re being honest, there’s not a ton of “bad” happening with the three defensive pairings.
  • Noah Hanifin & Rasmus Andersson have a 62.4% expected goals for and a 57.9% goals for.
  • Oliver Kylington & Chris Tanev have a 63.6% expected goals for and a 85.7% goals for.
  • Nikita Zadorov & Erik Gudbranson have a 60.5% expected goals for and a 63.6% goals for.
When they’re on the ice, all three pairings are out-scoring the players they’re out against at even strength. And the top two pairs are strong enough that they can give Zadorov & Gudbranson tons of offensive zone starts and split up the tougher minutes between the two pairs.
The bad: It’s working probably about as well as it can be expected to work. At some point, the actual goals for numbers will more closely resemble their expected goals for. But right now, the system is working.

The forward lines

The good: The top two lines have been excellent.
We’ve discussed the excellence of the top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk in the past. Over the past 10 games, they have 63.5% expected goals for and 81.3% goals for. They’re full marks.
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The second line of Andrew Mangiapane, Mikael Backlund and Blake Coleman have traditionally generated many scoring chances (and expected goals) but not gotten rewarded. Well, they’re generating 62.1% expected goals for and getting 69.2% goals for. The puck is going in for them, and they’re generating a ton of quality looks. Well done.
The bad: While the top two lines have carried the mail for the Flames, the bottom two lines have not done so.
Here are the five main configurations of the bottom six:
  • Dillon Dube, Sean Monahan & Brett Ritchie: 61.2% expected goals for, 0-0% goals for (out-scored 2-0)
  • Dube, Monahan & Milan Lucic: 60.8% expected goals for, 0.0% goals for (out-scored 3-0)
  • Trevor Lewis, Adam Ruzicka & Lucic: 43.3% expected goals for, 100% goals for (out-scoring 1-0)
  • Lewis, Ruzicka & Ritchie: 61.6% expected goals for, 33.3% goals for (out-scored 2-1)
  • Lewis, Brad Richardson & Ritchie: 50.0% expected goals for, no goals for or against
Some of these combinations had possession success. But both Dube and Ritchie have been snake-bit offensively this season and that’s continued to this stretch of games. Ritchie has a 1.92 on-ice shooting percentage and Dube has a 1.35 on-ice shooting percentage – those are incredibly low, but very much reflective of how offensively challenged they’ve been.
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If you’re nervous about how the Flames will survive the post-season, the structure and physicality of the Flames’ bottom two lines probably makes you think they can withstand playoff hockey. But their utter lack of goals or offensive flair might also make you think that the team will be incredibly dependent on the other two lines for scoring.
Over the past 10 games, the six players on the top two lines have combined for 23 goals at five-on-five. Their remaining seven forwards have combined for three – as many as the least productive top six goal-scorer. In a seven game series against a deep team who is competent at line-matching, this is their Achilles’ heel.
What jumps out at you from the Flames’ past 10 games? Sound off in the comments!
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