When the Calgary Flames began the month of December, they were 10-9-3 (just a game above .500) and were technically outside of a playoff spot by points percentage. Moreover, the team looked disjointed, disorganized and not much like the Flames we expected.
But since the calendar flipped over into December, the Flames have played 21 games over a six week period and aside from some gaffes here and there, have emerged as something resembling what we projected we would see when the season began.

High-level standings numbers

(All stats we cite here are from the great folks at Natural Stat Trick.)
Since Dec. 1, the Flames have posted a 10-5-6 record over 21 games. Their performance has earned them 26 points, for a .619 points percentage.
The goal differential is +10, from 66 goals for and 56 goals against. At five-on-five, they have a +7 differential (46 for, 39 against), on special teams they have a +1 differential (13 for, 12 against), and they have a -2 overtime differential (1 for, 3 against).

Situational underlying rankings

On the offensive side of the puck, here’s how the Flames rank on a per-60 basis at five-on-five among the 32 NHL clubs:
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  • 6th in expected goals for
  • 7th in scoring chances for
  • 15th in high-danger chances for
(If you want to criticize the team for having puck possession but not getting enough dangerous possession, the numbers we have access to back up your contentions somewhat.)
On the defensive side of the ledger, here’s how the Flames rank (again, per 60 and at five-on-five):
  • 5th in expected goals against
  • 4th in scoring chances against
  • 11th in high-danger chances against
(Again, their high-danger numbers are a bit leakier than their “regular” numbers. But overall, solid.)
At five-on-five, their shooting percentage is 22nd and their save percentage is 25th. This is to say, the numbers suggest that the Flames are doing a good job of generating chances while preventing them, but they can’t get the key goal or save lately.
On the power play, their offence generation is between 12th (scoring chances for per 60) and 17th (high-danger chances for per 60). On the penalty kill, their offence suppression is between 8th (high-danger chances per 60) and 9th (expected goals against and scoring chances against per 60). That is to say: their power play is about average, while their penalty kill is pretty good.
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Based on the personnel the Flames have, this more or less sounds like we would’ve expected from this season. Speaking of…

Positional breakdowns

Goalies
  • Jacob Markstrom has an .898 five-on-five save percentage in 14 games and has posted a 5-5-3 record
  • Dan Vladar has a .922 five-on-five save percentage in 8 games and has posted a 5-0-3 record
Of the 60 goalies who have played 200+ 5v5 minutes since Dec. 1, Vladar is part of a bunch of goalies tied around 21st, while Markstrom is 50th. (In other words: Vladar is slightly above average, while Markstrom is, well, not.)
Defencemen (by pairing)
  • Noah Hanifin (2 goals, 7 points, 58.2% expected goals for, xGF) & Rasmus Andersson (2 goals, 11 points, 59.9% xGF)
  • MacKenzie Weegar (1 goal, 4 points, 56.8% xGF) & Chris Tanev (0 goals, 3 points, 56.7% xGF)
  • Nikita Zadorov (1 goal, 4 points, 52.1% xGF) & Michael Stone (2 goals, 2 points 49.5% xGF)
Also: Connor Mackey (2 goals, 2 points, 50.3% xGF) and Dennis Gilbert (0 points, 74.6% xGF)
Only Cale Makar has played more minutes than Andersson since Dec. 1. And you can argue that, aside from wishing for Oliver Kylington’s prompt return, this looks like the best version of this Flames defensive group. Everything’s working, and the stuff that’s not working great seems to at least be not doing any damage.
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Forwards (by line)
  • Dillon Dube (6 goals, 14 points, 53.9% xGF) – Elias Lindholm (7 goals, 23 points, 53.3% xGF) – Tyler Toffoli (7 goals, 21 points, 55.5% xGF)
  • Milan Lucic (4 goals, 7 points, 51.8% xGF) – Nazem Kadri (8 goals, 18 points, 52.1% xGF) – Jonathan Huberdeau (4 goals, 17 points, 50.0% xGF)
  • Andrew Mangiapane (4 goals, 10 points, 63.3% xGF) – Mikael Backlund (4 goals, 12 points, 66.7% xGF) – Blake Coleman (5 goals, 8 points, 61.7% xGF)
  • Trevor Lewis (3 goals, 7 points, 44.9% xGF) – Adam Ruzicka (1 goal, 11 points, 59.4% xGF) – Brett Ritchie (1 goal, 1 point, 49.5% xGF)
Also: Walker Duehr (1 goal, 1 point, 44.5% xGF), Matthew Phillips (0 points, 55.8% xGF), Kevin Rooney (0 points, 44.0% xGF) and Radim Zohorna (0 points, 47.1% xGF)
There’s a lot to like here! The Lindholm line is cooking! The Backlund line is a possession beast, though arguably under-performing offensively. Lucic is, respectfully, obviously the odd man out on the Kadri line in terms of offensive production (but he’s carrying his weight from a possession standpoint, which is commendable). The fourth line group remains a churn of bodies, though the numbers suggest that whatever form that ends up taking, Ruzicka should be a part of it.
How have you felt about the Flames over their past 21 games? Is this looking like the team you expected to see? What changes would you like to see between now and the trade deadline? Let us know in the comments!
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