Obviously, things aren't going as well for the Calgary Flames as they did last year. As we are now at the quarter point of the season, it makes sense to compare the two years and see where things are falling.
All stats are courtesy of the wonderful people at war-on-ice.com.
The "top guys"
Many of the reasons the Flames succeeded last year were because of highly successful years for the top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Jiri Hudler and Sean Monahan, the superb work of T.J. Brodie and Mark Giordano at the back end, and career years for Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman. There seems to be as good a place as any to start, as well as including Mikael Backlund, so we have last year's top four forwards and top four defencemen.
|Player stats after 21 games|
Brodie aside, everyone else has played a full season thus far, except for Hudler missing the game against Chicago. The points stats are usually the first port of call to see how players are performing, seeing if they're putting points on the board. The obvious issues here are Hudler's slight drop in scoring, and Giordano's huge drop off.
The P60 stat is more interesting here - points per 60 minutes of ice time. Only Gaudreau, Backlund, and surprisingly Monahan have improved. Brodie gets a pass here from working his way back into the groove after injury, and while Giordano gets a similar pass, his is more alarming as he has declared himself 100% fit and has been in the team aince the start. He had a few games where he was starting rushes and looking like last year's Giordano, but it has been few and far between.
Now we have looked at the basics, let's look at the possession - something that we addressed many times last year as an issue.
|Even Strength 5 on 5 Possession Stats and All Situation Shots|
Firstly, Mikael Backlund and T.J. Brodie are possession monsters. They have both seen tremendous jumps in their Corsi and Fenwick stats, and have helped those around them - Backlund has helped Sam Bennett settle into the side, and Brodie is dragging Giordano's stats up, despite Gio's poor start to the year.
Both Russell and Wideman have also seen their stats rise, but that too is predominantly down to their partners - Wideman has mostly been with this season's pleasant surprise in Deryk Engelland, while Kris Russell has been predominantly with Dougie Hamilton - more on him later.
Monahan and Hudler's struggles are more proved in these numbers, too. Despite playing with the improved Johnny Gaudreau, both have seen hits to their Fenwick stats. Hudler has taken a slight dip in his Corsi for/60 stat, while Monahan has dropped by roughly 5% on every possession stat. He's getting killed out there.
There's a more basic stat, though, which explains why the top eight from last year are struggling. Look at their giveaways.
- Brodie, Wideman, Giordano - 16
- Gaudreau - 13
- Monahan - 11
- Backlund, Hudler - 9
- Russell - 8
Teams can get as good at possession as they want, if they keep making so many basic errors, they're going to get punished.
Dougie Hamilton and Michael Frolik were signed to big fanfare, with the idea that they are good possession players that would improve the team. Given time, they may. To start with...not so much.
|Dougie Hamilton and Michael Frolik after 21 games|
First, the positive. Frolik has been great. His possession stats have improved from his last year in Winnipeg, despite getting tougher starts, starting further down the ice than he has been used to. He's not being utilised on the powerplay, but his penalty kill time has more than doubled. Some of this can be attributed to playing with Backlund and Bennett, but then he was a good possession player on a pretty poor-possession Jets team last year. For the role he plays in the side, you can't really ask much more from him.
Hamilton, on the other hand, has not been the all-conquering white knight we hoped. Some of that is deployment and line mates, but a lot of it is probably adjusting to a new system and getting used to being in a new city with new team mates. Yes, he need to be better, as his possession numbers have taken a big dip, but he has settled in the last few games and was helping to pull Russell up a bit. Indeed, the last five games (at least until he went off injured against Chicago) both Russell and Hamilton were looking good, Hamilton looked like a player and Russell seemed to have his confidence back. To be honest, even with his lower numbers, Hamilton is still one of the better possession players on the team.
In conclusion, Frolik can be happy with his own personal start, but Hamilton won't be. He will come good though.
The team game
So with the improved performances from the key players, and the addition of good possession players in Hamilton and Frolik, how has that affected the overall team game?
|Flames ES Possession/All situations ZSO% and goals|
|ES Corsi For||796||930|
|ES Corsi Against||1024||995|
|ES Corsi For %||43.7||48.3|
|ES Corsi +/-||-228||-65|
|ES Fenwick For||576||682|
|ES Fenwick Against||689||704|
|ES Fenwick For %||45.5||49.2|
|ES Fenwick +/-||-113||-22|
|All sits. Offensive Zone Start %||42.8||49.2|
|All sits. Save %||90.8||88.2|
|All Sit. Shot %||11.6||8.2|
|All Sit. Goals For||64||50|
Yet more numbers that seem to debunk advanced stats. The Flames are much improved as a possession team, but have given up more goals, have scored less, and have lower shot and save percentages on the back of that. This is where that wonderful quantifier called "scoring effects" comes into play.
When a team is ahead in a game, particularly if the lead is comfortable, they'll take their foot off the pedal a bit, allowing the other team to come back into it. So, while the Flames are giving up less corsi events, and are getting more chances themselves, many of them come from a position of being behind and having to chase the game. They're also not converting many of the chances they're getting. These all combined make for the start the Flames have had. Also, look at that save percentage.
Two of the main questions going into the season was who would be number one, and what would happen with Joni Ortio. Neither of those questions have particularly been answered, and they've got nobody but themselves (okay, maybe a poor defence in front of them) to blame.
|Netminder Save Percentages|
|GP||GA||All Sv%||ES Sv%|
Firstly, none of the goalies started well, and they'd be the first to admit it. Out of Dr Jonas and Mr Hiller, it was the latter who showed up the most. He was beginning to look a little bit settled, then Bobby Ryan got pushed into him and he hasn't played since. Joni Ortio had the chance to make the spot his own, and just did not take it, and did not look ready for it.
Enter Karri Ramo. He had an awful start to the year, and as we all know, that ended with him being waived and sent to Stockton. His overall numbers have only just sneaked back into the 90s, but since his return from the AHL he has an even strength save percentage of 92.56%, which dips to 90.72 in all situations. We're not talking Carey Price here, but he has definitely been the best goalie on the team this year. All credit to him, as it looked like he was done by the middle of October.
Enough negativity. What's gone right?
The third line
It seems a pretty average line, but since the three have combined, they have helped become a key cog in the turn around in form. They are like a mix of a checking line and a scoring line - they won't put huge number up but as a unit they're driving play, and Jones is providing great secondary scoring. Indeed, he leads the team in scoring, putting the puck in the net when better offensive talents haven't.
|Joe Colborne, Matt Stajan and David Jones|
Jones' possession numbers have actually dropped slightly, but he is playing on a lower line and away from Backlund. Stajan has more or less stayed where he was, but Colborne has seen a vast improvement from last year. They have found a role to play, and have been effective in doing so.
The biggest surprise of the season so far has been the steady play of Deryk Engelland, he who was much maligned last year. He's not suddenly amazing, but he's been steady and reliable.
|The unlikely "Mr Dependable"|
|ESC+/-||ESCF%||ESFF%||All GA60||All +/-||TOI/Gm|
His ice time has reduced, but he has improved across the board. He has also been relied upon to settle others down. He has spent time with Dougie Hamilton, Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman so far this season, all in an attempt to help them calm down and find their feet again, and it's worked to some extent.
His contract still sucks, but as for his on-ice performances, you can't complain.
19-year-old Samuel Bennett
It's no surprise that Bennett has been so good, but it's pleasing to see. Let's see how he matches up against his "rival" in the centers, Sean Monahan.
|Sean Monahan (2013)||46.3||47.5||8||6||2.5||16:12|
Monahan had a better points production over his first 21 games, but with slightly more ice time on a fairly settled line. Bennett has bounced between two different positions over three lines, and over the past couple of weeks has looked lethal - and what a goal that was against Pittsburgh. There's a high ceiling for Bennett, and it's only going to be exciting to see if he can reach it (or even break through).
It's not all doom and gloom in Calgary. They're becoming a better team by the numbers, and the eye test is starting to turn in their favour too. The upwards curve needs to continue though.
We'll come back and look at these numbers again at the half way point.