On Calgary's Offensive Woes


Welcome back folks. I trust much loot was acquired and many Turkeys were consumed during your time off. Here's hoping you had a happy holidays.

And with that, it' back to your regularly scheduled bitching...

I mentioned previously that the Flames offensive struggles are slightly overblown this month, given that the SH% has gone in the toilet. It's probably safe to say, however, that they aren't grossly exaggerated and that the club's primary weakness this season is and will be generating offense. As things stand right now, the Flames are 28th in the league in terms of shots on net per game (27.0) ahead of only Montreal and Colorado. Even the Edmonton Oilers average more than one shot on net more than the Flames (28.2) and they are (quite deservedly) in the Taylor Hall Sweepstakes. Not good quality of company to be keeping.

The power outage extends to the power-play, which has been objectively awful outside of the first few weeks of magical deflections. Hockey Numbers has the Flames 28th in league by shots/60 with the man advantage as well (47.6), ahead of just the Oilers and Phoenix Coyotes. The resurrection of Kiprusoff and the NHL's most expensive blueline seems to generally have things in hand at the bad end of the ice, but there's no arguing the club is lacking punch up front.

Solutions to problem are neither obvious or forthcoming I'm afraid.

"Connie has played a little right wing," said Sutter. "He has had some success with Jarome in the past. I don't want to take Iggy and Olli away from each other because they are feeling their way."

That's Brent via Mike Board on the issue of the newest practice lines. The newest "first line" iteration features the currently goalless Craig Conroy - at right wing, no less. I'd decry this as patently absurd, but we passed that signpost some time back when guys like Sjostrom and Nystrom were taking their tours of duty with the org's highest paid forwards.

What's perhaps more ridiculous than the contention that somehow Conroy's previous success with Jarome may be revived is the Sutter's claim that "Iginla and Olli...are feeling their way." Now, I'm a numbers guy and I have sympathy for sticking with theoretically sound strategies through small samples because I know shit happens at this level and it takes time for the wheat to seperate from the chaffe.

However, my patience for this particular experiment wore thin a ways back and I've begun to wonder just what quality or quantity of data it would take to deter Sutter(s) from pursuing the Iginla/Jokinen coupling. We're going on 60-some games now and likely hundreds and hundreds of minutes of on-ice play together for these two guys and the returns have been poor-to-terrible outside of some very brief windows. Through the first 30 games, Iginla and Jokinen were the worst two forwards on the team in terms of scoring chance differential. Only shut-down defensemen and 4th liners remain below them in terms of relative corsi ratings. Only better than average on-ice percentages has them (seemingly) keeping their heads above water. We've seen this month what happens when the Hockey Gods cast their favor elsewhere, so things could get much uglier for Calgary's ostensible #1 line if/when the bounces go the other way.

The fact that Conroy is auditioning on the right wing rather than down the middle suggests Sutter's fidelity is to a reputation than reality - Darryl acquired Olli Jokinen to be the Franchises "sorely needed" big-bodied first line center and, come hell or high water, he's going to be the team's number one center. Never mind that he was run out of two offensively starved clubs before this. Never mind that he's been an unmitigated bust in Flames colors. Never mind that the math never liked Jokinen and that he's several years removed from the player that was at least generating counting numbers worthy of his hype. He's still "feeling his way". "If you label me, you negate me" Mike Myers said, channeling Kierkegaard in Wayne's World. It works the other way too, brother. 

Of course, one can't only point the finger at the younger Sutter. To some degree, I have some sympathy for Brent - he's already getting heavy mileage out of lesser contracts such as Bourque, Dawes and Glencross; God help this team should Daymond Langkow ever go down for any length of time. There's a very real lack of options for the Flames bench boss - does he play Jokinen with inferior options and hope to hide the $5M Jack-o-Lantern night in, night out? A clustering of the team's best ES options (Bourque, Langkow, Iginla) seems the most natural course of action, but it leaves the rest of the forward roster with ominous question marks:

Bourque-Langkow-Iginla

Dawes-Jokinen-Moss(?)

Glencross-Conroy-Nystrom(?)

Sjostrom-Boyd-Prust/McGrattan

Obviously, things get ugly in a hurry after that first unit, especially given what we know about Jokinen. Glencross, Dawes and Moss are fairly high quality support players, but they'd all likely be swimming against the tide in this configuration. Perhaps the Iginla line could move the puck forward well enough for it not to matter, but clearly we're gambling either way here - the real issue is the Flames don't have the requisite firepower up front. It's at least not the type of muscle to justify the expectations surrounding the team. As it's built, the Flames could probably make the post-season, but if the goal is to break the cruel one-and-out cycle of disappointment, a lot of things will have to fall right for this team to make any noise in April. It's not impossible, of course - we've seen the Flames catch lightning in bottle before - but it's betting long odds.

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