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Red Wings vs Flames - Backlund's Back, Alright! (Stats Recap)

Unlike Jesus, it took 29 games for Mikael Backlund to rise from his grave and attempt to trigger something.

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Subject to many questionable things last night and what-if's, the Flames unfortunately fell to Detroit. Detroit came into Alberta, burned Edmonton to the ground, and then came to Calgary and stole a couple points. It happens and we can move on now. That said, we did see some legitimate positives from last night's loss.

Much like Ari's recap, much of the positives revolve around Mikael Backlund. You know that chronically hurt guy who happens to drive possession? Yeah he's pretty spectacular. Hell at one point he was nearly a Swedish Olympian (but that's another story). With all the issues of the Flames inability to drive shot attempts or get offense, how did they fair last night?

Courtesy of HockeyStats.ca we have the lovely graphs to pin point some strengths and some long term problems:

Red Wings vs Flames - Corsi All Situations

  • The dependency on the Flames' power play to generate shot attempts and keep them in the game is growing increasingly concerning. Especially since the power play has dried up (cough PDO cough). What we find is lulls in play where their 5v5 play can't carry them much against strong possession teams (Detroit for example).
  • Because of that and it being a rebuild (once again I should stress this) we will see extreme lapses of 5v5 play lacking while huge spikes will exist on the man-advantage.
  • This happens in the first period, immediately after the first penalty; the Flames dry up though Detroit doesn't accomplish much either. From there, they end the period with one shot attempt on the power play.
  • The power play continues into the second and nothing happens. It should be noted that in the NHL game data, they don't report a single shot attempt after the power play. I re-watched the second period and I found in fact that Mark Giordano had a blocked shot attempt at 18:32 of the period. So 1 extra CF does help minimally.
  • We'll cover the second period a bit further in detail for the 5v5 section since a majority of what happened was 5v5 only.
  • Coming into the third period, thanks to a smart passing play by the Red Wings; Justin Abdelkader's 11th of the season would trigger a burst of shot attempts (score effects in action, people). A brief lull caused from the Joe Colborne penalty would send the Flames back to the PK.
  • We know what happened, they were opportunistic with a man down and thankfully Paul Byron's pass connected with Backlund who got it past Petr Mrazek to draw the Flames within a goal.
  • There were some further extended intervals of both teams having nothing happen mid-way through the period and time ran out for the comeback despite a surge of attempts at the end of the game with Hiller on the bench.

Red Wings vs Flames - Corsi 5v5

  • Remember how I mentioned the intervals of play without 5v5 shot attempts? This is the long term project of teams rebuilding; besides finding the right talent to be successful you need sustainable and often at times, continuous pressure during 5v5/ES play. It's a necessity in the league.
  • The two big stretches come during and after each of the power plays. Realistically from 23:51 to 26:32 is the best period of time for the Flames at 5v5. That's it, it's broken up by a Detroit push shortly after as at 27:00 they begin a huge interval of sustained shot attempts and pressure.
  • Calgary does have a few more short bursts that they're notorious for but beyond that it's flat to end the period.
  • The final frame does nothing more to build a strong argument for a Flames victory at all. Though much of the play in the period is non-existent at 5v5 and negated in the last few minutes with Hiller pulled. Realistically the real weapon that Detroit deployed was neutral zone control and aggressive defensive zone play to take the puck away.
  • It's all very subtle in the flow of the game but when you watch it over again; this is a genius method of controlling play easily without needing to generate shot attempts.

I encourage everyone if they recorded the game or watch the games on Gamecentre Live/Centre Ice to rewatch the game and look for these subtle decisions by Detroit. The element of responsible decisions that they make in this game against the Flames is very crucial to their victory. Though they're not absolved of the mistakes that lead to decent shot attempts, scoring chances, goals, and the sort.

Courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com we have our period summaries and player data:

Red Wings vs Flames - Period Summary (All Situations)

  • The PP time alone in the opening period was instrumental in keeping the Flames afloat (see below).
  • Remarkably in the second period, the Abdelkader penalty didn't give the Flames anything really. The differential between ES and All situations is +1 for the Flames. That power play could have been something if better decision had have been made...or if Hudler played potentially.
  • Joy! The final period thanks to the man-advantages, the shorthanded goal, and the whole lot did generate quite a bit more than previous periods due to score effects. This team lives and dies by the score effects mantra in the third. It needs to stop.

Red Wings vs Flames - Period Summary (Even Strength)

  • The first period, just another Flames' first period for the most part.
  • Steady improvement into the second period thanks to the 3 minute window I mentioned further up. Those moments are what can make or break teams. Unfortunately a lack of similar pushes would do the Flames in possession wise.
  • Finally, as part of the score effects push and the Backlund goal; they fought back and were a better team than the Red Wings in regards to underlying numbers. Play on the ice at times was fractured and inconsistent but that's another story.

Flames - Corsi / Fenwick / SF% / Zone Start Data

  • Johnny Gaudreau had a decent night without Jiri Hudler by his side. That's right, Papa Huds was a late scratch as Mrs. Hudler is expecting the couple's first child (second if you count the adoption of Johnny). He spent the bulk of the night getting the most OZS% than the entire team. He spent much of the night with Joe Colborne and Josh Jooris. The line itself was on the ice for some of the more positive possession numbers which shows how crucial zone entries, shot attempts, and controlling play is.
  • The insulation of Gaudreau is something that other top rookies are getting. Filip Forsberg as illustrated in the December rookie of the month honors to Gaudreau is more sheltered. That said, he had some moments last night but regardless he doesn't appear to be a drag on possession as much as Sean Monahan was last year in his rookie campaign.
  • Going back to Jooris, listen I love the kid. Is he a top six forward? Doubtful, but he could be a fixture on the third line moving forward as someone who can be a superb bottom six forward. Structuring a line with Paul Byron and maybe Matt Stajan or Sam Bennett for part of next season might work. Jooris had an okay evening and the WOWY from the game with Gaudreau shows he isn't driving possession necessarily. Jooris with Gaudreau? 57.14% CF / 63.16% FF. Without? 0% though the sample size away is small. Though he was a positive FF% player with moderate zone start split.
  • Going back to Colborne, away from Gaudreau he was 50% CF / 63.16% FF. With? 59.09% CF / 63.16% FF. A huge spike of possession and shot attempts. He still makes decisions that often make no sense and I still see him as a legitimate drag on shot attempts; but maybe he can grow a bit more. He had a wide assortment of competition like Darren Helm, Tomas Tatar, and Pavel Datsyuk. All of which destroyed possession wise.
  • Mark Giordano had a strong possession evening though his overall play at time seemed very inconsistent and fractured. The giveaway to Gustav Nyquist would have killed the team if it wasn't for Jonas Hiller. He played the top lines / pairings that Detroit threw at him and Brodie. Hell, just about everyone he played against he was successful against. That said, fatigue could be a factor due to depth issues on some mistakes. I encourage you all to look at the Flames - Opposition section on this page and filter by EV.
  • TJ Brodie had a very rough night with regard to his underlying numbers. It looks like he had a bit too much TOI with Kris Russell because together they were 12.5% CF + FF. Without? 53.85% CF and 51.17% FF. The sample was for 3:59 of play. Continuing with that, the same sample is shown with Matt Stajan. Similar drags come from Lance Bouma and Brandon Bollig too. Their zone starts are on the harder side of things (25%, 0%, 20%, and 25% OZS) so it's safe to say those could be icings, bad changes, and additional factors.
  • I liked Mason Raymond last night quite a bit. I've been a huge fan of his since his days in Vancouver and I love the elements he brings to the game. His healthy scratching confused the hell out of me and it "woke him up" I guess. The opening goal was classic Raymond. His speed is crucial and that's why he was acquired. Cement him with players that help him, not hinder him. He spent the bulk of the night with Backlund and David Jones. Backlund was a huge boost on his possession numbers too (we'll get to that though).
Player Spotlight - Mikael Backlund

Alright so it's his first game back in 29 missed due to a bunch of abdominal issues. How'd he do? Pretty fucking amazing considering the shape he was in prior to going on the injured reserve. Hartley took every chance he could play him and in every scenario. As you saw, Ari had nothing but praise for his return. I, also have much of the same praise. She teased at his ES CF% being 56.52% but he also brought more than that to the table.

WOWY - Teammates

  • At ES, playing with Mason Raymond with and without, he was 50%. Great, that's a good starting point and a great sample size to work with within one game. What stands out even further is how good he was away from David Jones. Without Backlund beside him, Jones was 33.33% CF last night. He had zero FF% and shots on net without him too. Though Jones basically had no one else for any other decent sample sizes. Yet it's a testament to how important Backlund is.
  • Everyone he was with had positive possession regardless of the sample size (excluding Colborne, Jooris, Bouma). He also had several instances of defensive zone starts and came out successful in those. Not many players can do that. Was it all him? Probably not EVERY time but he helped improve the players around him.
WOWY - Opposition

  • How many players can go up against greats in a game like Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Nicklas Kronwall and come out ahead in possession? Not many. He did though for varying sample sizes. Keep in mind this is only one game. Still a good way to star this return.
  • Even though he had some 0% marks (1 shot attempt) and a few less than stellar match-ups he was overall very successful with the number of CF/CA against the opposition was limited to. Conversely, the FF/FA as well is generally low as well. The overall success of Mikael Backlund's game comes in these areas, areas not measured solely by points or plus/minus. It comes in his ability to actually shutdown and play a tight game while driving possession.
The biggest thing working against Backlund is his health and offensive inconsistencies. Though last season he showed significant growth because he was eventually utilized properly, his ceiling is fast approaching. The smartest thing to do is lock him up for an extended contract to solidify the centre position on this team.

Having stability down the middle could be the first time since the early 90's and late 80's for this team. With Sam Bennett's health and progress improving since the surgery; and his tenure on the horizon, Calgary has some decisions to make. The eventual goal seems like Bennett on the top line, Monahan on the second, and Backlund on the third. Should that happen? Definitely? Is it going to happen over night? Nope.

The main thing that matters is keeping Backlund healthy, in the line-up, and doing what he does best? Silently drive the Flames possession upwards into actual success.