Sports are, ultimately, entertainment. They're supposed to be fun. And if you're a Calgarian, well, right now, they're the most fun. The Roughnecks are coming off an exciting championship run, and will soon be back. The Hitmen are in the midst of a tight division race, and scored nine goals against the Red Deer Rebels last night. The Stamps won the Grey Cup.
And the Flames are doing far, far better than anyone would have ever predicted, and don't seem to be slowing down.
Here's the sobering reality check, though: don't be surprised if they do slow down, because the Calgary Flames are one of the worst possession teams in the league, and it's not really close. Now, having good possession statistics doesn't always mean you're going to win, but it means you're more likely to. And over the course of an 82-game season, the teams with the best possession stats tend to be the ones that not only make the playoffs, but go deep in them.
The Flames are, at least at this point in time, not yet in that position. So enjoy the ride, but if the fall comes in the next few months, well, just be ready for that, too. Because as fun as last night's game against the Coyotes was - and it was super fun - fancy stats-wise, it was a very bad one. Via HockeyStats.ca:
It was close for about eight minutes. Then the Coyotes tied the game at one, and never looked back. Vastly superior goaltending and some puck luck helped the Flames out in this game, big time. It doesn't get any prettier when we do a period by period look, via NaturalStatTrick:
Flames vs Coyotes - All Situations
- Those are some VERY poor corsi numbers from the Flames.
- Fenwick is a bit friendlier, though, and why wouldn't it be? Fenwick is corsi, after all, but without the blocked shots. The Flames blocked 26 shots. The Coyotes blocked 11. That's a pretty significant difference.
- And hey, the Flames are known as the third period team, right? As of right now, they lead the league with 37 third period goals, five more than second place Tampa Bay and Montreal. There's a good explanation for the much-improved third, though...
Flames vs Coyotes - Even Strength
- The Coyotes had eight seconds of powerplay time in the first, and 1:52 in the second. The Flames had a full two minutes with the extra man in the second. So when we're looking at even strength data only, not a whole lot changes in the first two periods. Both teams had pretty even tradeoffs.
- The third period, though. The Flames take a massive nosedive there, because in that frame, they had a 2-0 powerplay advantage. Now, the Flames scored rather quickly on one of them, but still: seven of the Flames' 17 total shot attempts in the third came on the powerplay. For 41% of the Flames' shot attempts they needed someone in the Arizona box.
- You can look at that two ways: the Flames have a good powerplay (it is currently ninth in the league, so there's some merit to that), or they need to be much, much better at even strength (and considering how, corsi-wise, they're better than pretty much only Buffalo, that's extremely true).
Like I said in the initial game recap, though: you have to be good to be lucky. I think the Flames are playing above their heads right now, but they also have a lot of positive signs for the future. Just look at Josh Jooris. And isn't that really all we could ask for going into this season?
Flames Even Strength Data
- Keeping this brief: there are no heroes here. When counting all shot attempts, every single Flames player was outshot by the Coyotes team. Every single one.
- Fenwick is all over the place, though. Looking at just shots on net and missed shots, TJ Brodie was able to outshoot the Coyotes, while Jiri Hudler and Curtis Glencross at least broke even.
- Ladislav Smid and Deryk Engelland had especially disastrous nights, no matter how you slice it, but both blocked four shots apiece, so fenwick is kinder to them. At the same time, they only had to block those shots because they didn't have the puck to begin with. It's not that blocking shots is a bad thing in and of itself, but teams with more shots blocked tend to have the puck less, which means they tend to have fewer scoring opportunities, so you can see the connection there.
- Jooris is kind of an anomaly here. He had some of the Flames' better corsi stats, but his fenwick is among the worst on the team. He didn't block any shots, although linemate Johnny Gaudreau blocked two.
- There's some pretty big disparity between normal defence partners Brodie and Mark Giordano, as well as with Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman, albeit to a lesser extent. They still played most of the game together, so it's not entirely clear how that happened, or where that came from.
- Shoutout to Russell and Wideman, by the way, for holding the fort with the worst zone starts on the team.
- While nobody was particularly great, you can see a lot of kids struggled on the night. The goons are expected to be down there, but Markus Granlund, Sven Baertschi, Lance Bouma, Michael Ferland, and Paul Byron all had a pretty rough go of it. They make up the team's bottom six, but maybe it's time for a bit of a change up?
- NO I am NOT going to stop advocating getting Baertschi off the fourth line until he is actually off it. Think about it, though. What set of players would you play him with: Bollig and Bouma, or Granlund and Byron? Which two do you think he's more likely to fit in with? On the flip side of that, Ferland may develop a big league scoring touch, but his game is more suited for the gritty than Baertschi's is.
- Basically: the bottom two lines had especially bad performances. They're made up of kids and goons, so it's not particularly shocking. But with the kids there especially, it could be a sign that things should be shaken up.
Player Spotlight - Johnny Gaudreau
Josh Jooris is the man of the hour, but Gaudreau had an insane night as well. He didn't match Jooris in points, but was very threatening just about every time he touched the puck, and a number of times, created scoring chances out of absolutely nothing. He's already developing into a very, very special player. And besides, he had two primary assists on two of Jooris' goals, so without Gaudreau, there's no hat trick.
- First things first: Gaudreau + Giordano + Brodie = amazing. Gaudreau + Wideman + Russell = less so. It's not a bad top four, but it's very, very clear who the top two are.
- Gaudreau spent nearly the entire game with Hudler. They seem to compliment one another rather well, which just attests to the fact that Hudler has been a great mentor for many of the Flames' prospects, and playing them with him really helps them out. Of course, it also helps that Hudler is a skilled guy, and has qualities beyond "great leader".
- Gaudreau spent nearly five and a half minutes away from Jooris, mostly on the powerplay. You're likely to have better possession stats when on the powerplay, so the fact that Gaudreau posted better numbers when away from Jooris isn't really indicative of Jooris' play. Other than the fact that he isn't on the first powerplay unit.
- On the flip side, when Gaudreau and Sean Monahan shared the ice, that was mostly on the powerplay, so of course they played well together. Although we've seen them play well together in the past at even strength. When the team is healthier and has more options with its lines, I'd really, really like to see Gaudreau with Monahan.
So the Flames were mostly horribly outplayed, but luck was on their side. Even if it wasn't, though, there are still clearly things to look out for. Rookies like Jooris and Gaudreau are two of those things. Five points between them, and some overall stellar play. When they get older and more experienced, they'll probably be even better.
So even if luck does catch up with the Flames, and they collapse as advanced stats predict they will, there's still a lot to look forward to. Don't forget that part, and keep having fun watching the team no matter what, because there's definitely something here.