This season, the Calgary Flames haven’t been amazing – at least not with any consistency. They have been a frustrating team for fans to watch at times for this reason. But looking back upon their history, particularly since the current era of the team began in 2013-14, one shining truth is revealed.
They’ve always been like this.

Allowing the first goal

The Flames have allowed the first goal more than half the time in every season except for 2015-16 and 2018-19. When they allow the first goal, their winning percentage ranges from .222 to .435. When they score first, they tend to have a winning percentage between .647 and .878. (In 2015-16 that dropped to .587, but that’s an obvious outlier.)
When they score first, they’re great. When they don’t, they’re not.

Trailing after the first period

The Flames have trailed after the first period between 26 and 34 times over the past few seasons – not quite half. Their first period goal differential has ranged between -22 and +2, with just two seasons in the black (at +2 both times). At best, they tend to be a mediocre first period team overall.
When they trail after the first period, their winning percentage ranges between .206 and .343. The big outlier there is .433, from the Find A Way Flames 2014-15 season. When they lead after the first period, they have a winning percentage ranging from .692 and .889.

Chasing in games

The Flames tend to chase more often than not, and how often they trail in games (relative to the league) is generally a pretty good metric for the team. They were fourth-most in 2013-14, seventh-most in 2014-15, eighth-most in 2015-16, 11th-most in 2016-17, 12th-most in 2017-18, 14th-most in 2018-19 and third-most in 2019-20. The trends are they’ve been in the top half in the league in terms of trailing in games the entire time, but they managed to get out of the top third for three seasons (2016-17 to 2018-19) before dropping like a stone in 2019-20. Despite this, they’ve made the playoffs four times during this entire span.
The Flames  also tend to lead the least in the NHL, cracking the “top” 10 in this category four times: third-least in 2014-15, 10th-least in 2014-15, ninth-least in 2017-18 and ninth-least in 2019-20. (They made the playoffs in two of these seasons.) Between this and the chasing tendency, the result is the Flames never really sit tied in a game, they’re either running away with things or they’re trying to claw back into the game.

Talented, but not consistent

The Flames are either great in games – scoring first, leading after the first period and powering their way to victory – or not great – doing, well, the opposite. And this trend has persisted even when they’ve cycled through coaches.
They’ve made the playoffs four times over the past seven seasons because, well, they’re an inconsistent hockey team with some really good players. Mark Giordano won the Norris Trophy. Mikael Backlund and Elias Lindholm has received Selke Trophy consideration. Johnny Gaudreau has received Hart Trophy votes. Sean Monahan has received Lady Byng consideration. Several other players are exciting for other reasons.
So it should shock nobody that the year they seemed to deal with inconsistency the most effectively – 2018-19 – they were quite simply one of the best teams in hockey. They have a lot of good pieces, it’s just a matter of finding ways to help them combine effectively – like a hockey Voltron – and sometimes when you deal with human beings, especially during a pandemic, they don’t all have their peak performances sync up at the same time.
But again: this doesn’t seem to be a coaching issue or a player issue or even a pandemic issue, this just seems to be what the Calgary Flames are. It’s not a bug at this point, it’s a feature.