Here is a cool thing about the Calgary Flames: they are not a festering pile of garbage. On the surface, they totally outplayed the Edmonton Oilers in every area but goal scoring the entire time (they just waited until the third period to get to that part, as is tradition). Digging a little deeper, and they still mostly outplayed them, just not quite the entire time. Digging even deeper than that, and the Oilers actually did a bit better than they let on... until the third period in which case the Flames dominated the hell out of them.
But no matter which way you slice it, the Flames were the better team. On the surface, of course, I'm talking about all corsi events in all situations, which we can see here, courtesy of the lovely HockeyStats.ca...
... in which the Flames took the shot attempt lead early on, and never let it go. When I talk about digging a little deeper, I'm referring to the possession battle, but on 5 v 5 even strength only...
... in which, when we remove powerplays, the Flames and Oilers exchanged possession rather evenly at first, before the Flames just took it and ran away with it. And when I talk about going a third layer deeper, I'm talking 5 v 5 even strength score adjusted corsi...
... in which, accounting for the relatively early two-goal lead, the Oilers may very well have been the better team. That is, until the third period, when the Flames ripped their heads from their necks and danced in their blood. Or outshot and out-possessed them by a greater margin than before and scored four goals. ... It's the same thing, really.
Before we get to more specific period-by-period analysis (and who doesn't love third periods?!), let's take another overall look, this time with War on Ice's handy dandy even strength shot plot:
So, the Flames were taking shots from EVERYWHERE. You can see Lance Bouma's two goals sitting pretty in the left (his right) faceoff circle, pretty much from the exact same spot. Someone has a new, temporarily wheelhouse.
But yeah, the Flames were firing indiscriminately. The Oilers did block a fair number of shots in the middle, but at the same time, a lot got right by them. And occasionally by the goalie. While the Flames were covering pretty much the entire offensive zone, their left side (our right in this graphic) is noticeably stronger. With Jiri Hudler sitting out due to sickness, the Flames' right got all the weaker. Still, they were taking more shots there than has been typical. The right side of the Flames offensive zone is definitely going to be something to keep watch over, especially as we near the trade deadline.
As for the Oilers' attempts on net, the ice is a lot more open. The Flames did their fair share of blocking, too (fun fact: of the 16 shots they blocked, 11 came from the top four. Six came from TJ Brodie alone. Oh my), but the Oilers simply weren't as aggressive. A couple of shots, not to mention Benoit Pouliot's goal, came from pretty tight in, but they really don't have much more than that to note. The Flames blocked most of their chances, and they didn't generate many more after that.
Now, here's something else fun: period-by-period possession analysis! There are some pretty distinct tales here, and they're all lovely to look at. From NaturalStatTrick:
Flames vs Oilers - All Situations
- Haha, the Flames had 24 corsi events for every period, while the Oilers kept losing four. So if you look at it on its absolute basest level, the Flames didn't really get better. The Oilers just got progressively worse. And that did kinda happen, especially with the two-goal lead and all.
- You want consistency, though? That's consistency.
- Look at all of that green isn't it beautiful!!
- Fenwick is a bit of a different tale. The Oilers blocked 11 shots alone in the second period! That's half of their blocked shots for the entire game! And harkening to above, when adjusting for score, the Oilers didn't have that bad of a second. But they were promptly killed in the third, so.
Flames vs Oilers - Even Strength
- Powerplay breakdown as thus: one for the Flames in the first, one for each team in the second, and two for the Flames in the third. The Flames won the penalty-drawing battle, to be sure.
- So it's no surprise to see their numbers dip a touch when taking the man advantage from the equation. But the real awesome, encouraging thing here is aside from the first, they still won the possession battle rather handily.
Flames Even Strength Data
- Mikael Backlund is a god, more on that shortly.
- Mikael Backlund's linemates, David Jones and Bouma, benefitted the heck from his play. The trio faced awful zone starts and top-flight Oiler competition, from what constitutes as their top defence pairing (actually, Oscar Klefbom and Jeff Petry were the only ones really able to provide some semblance of shutting them down, although they were still positive possession players - just less successful) to the top line that generated the Oilers' two goals.
- Meanwhile our favourite top goal scorers, Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, had a bit of a rougher go at it. They were still positive possession players, but they had easier circumstances to work with: top zone starts, and against lesser competition, although Ryan Nugent-Hopkins did an exceptional job in completely shutting them down. When he wasn't on the ice, though, Sean and Johnny played pretty, pretty well.
- Speaking of competition and zone starts: for this game, at least, Hartley made Backlund the shutdown centre over Monahan. It's the right move. For all of Monahan's impressive growth this season, Backlund is still the superior defensive player. Besides, Monahan's the superior offensive player: put him in position to succeed there, put Backlund in his own position to succeed, and things will work out.
- Monahan and Gaudreau's most common third linemate was Joe Colborne, and he had a pretty rough go of it. One of the worst Flames in terms of possession - you can particularly see this when looking at his relative columns, because he played more than the other bottom possession forwards - Colborne needed Monahan and Gaudreau to boost his numbers, and that definitely was not the case the other way around. I'd classify Colborne more as a "potentially useful depth guy" and "a guy who has not, is not, and in all likelihood, will not be a top line guy, so please stop forcing him there because it is clearly not working".
- Paul Byron was their winger in the first. That trio performed rather well together, as Byron has a tendency to boost his linemates' numbers. True, he was extremely heavily sheltered, but fact is, in terms of possession, he, Monahan, and Gaudreau all really helped one another out. It would have been worth seeing more than one period from that trio, but when you play for Bob Hartley, a guy who will immediately switch things up if you aren't one of his early favourites who can do no wrong for some reason, Joe, then you just aren't going to get that chance.
- (Yes, I'm still pissed about Sven Baertschi being scratched yet again.)
- Otherwise, Byron played a lot with Josh Jooris and Mason Raymond, two of the worst possession players from this game. They had beneficial zone starts - Raymond's were higher, hence his greater corsi rating - while playing primarily secondary and tertiary Oilers guys.
- It's hard to get a good read on someone from just his first NHL game, especially when it ends up cut short due to injury, but David Wolf looked pretty good, and the numbers support that fact. Considering how just a year ago he was playing in the DEL - quite a few steps down from the NHL, to say the least - his first game was a success. He was definitely trying to score, and came pretty close a handful of times!
- And then there are Matt Stajan and Brandon Bollig, who barely played at all. They each had one 18-second shift at the start of the third before they were never seen nor heard from again. I'm not entirely sure why Stajan got the boot - at least he played some penalty kill time; plus, his numbers are worse thanks to additional time played plus a higher quality of Oiler faced - but it's pretty difficult to really read into their numbers.
- Bollig couldn't even make it to five minutes. This is beyond a joke at this point. And yet, watch him get dressed next game. By the same coach who banished him for an entire period with an easily overcome-able deficit. Please make the charade end already.
- And Stajan had a pretty positive impact on Wolf's game over the 3:05 they played together at even strength, his third most common linemate by seconds.
- Mikael Backlund is a god. Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie are also gods, naturally. Heavy minutes, poor zone starts, top flight Oilers competition the entire way, and they came away positive possession players, as they are wont to do. A fantastic showing from them, yet again.
- Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman, meanwhile, are... less good. They were near the bottom in terms of possession, although they did spend a fair amount of time with the poorer possession forwards as well, playing much of the same secondary and tertiary Oiler competition. With some favourable zone starts. The Flames are kind of a one-defence-pairing team.
- And then there are Rafa Diaz and Deryk Engelland. They were given the softest possible circumstances: high offensive zone starts, and facing pretty much only terrible Oilers players. The least you can ask of them is to come away positive. They managed that much. Better than anything Ladislav Smid did with Engelland, certainly. So, uh... since replacing one slower defender with a much more mobile defenceman worked... Tyler Wotherspoon's turn is when, exactly...?
Player Spotlight - Mikael Backlund
I'd love to go further into Wolf's numbers, but as said above, there just... isn't a lot there to really work with. And as also said above, Mikael Backlund is a god. So without further adieu:
- So, before the season started, I wrote about how together Mikael Backlund, TJ Brodie, and Mark Giordano were probably going to save the Flames. Together, they were a staggering 90% in corsi events for over seven and a half minutes at even strength. There was literally one corsi event against the trio over this time. One. Just one.
- Those three are amazing. Those three TOGETHER are just wonderful.
- I like Bouma, but he needs Backlund to survive. Backlund played better when away from him - disclaimer, it was for substantially less time, so don't put too much stock into just how dramatic that number is - but Bouma definitely benefited more from Backlund than Backlund did from Bouma. His CF was 66.67% for the roughly two minutes at even strength he was separated from Backlund. Not a big drop, but still a drop. And just like how Bouma saw success against the Arizona Coyotes: remember, the Oilers are a bottom of the barrel team, too. Against weak competition? Sure, whatever. Don't think Bouma on the second line is gonna work against a team that can go three years without a first overall pick, though.
There's absolutely no getting around this: the Flames need, need, need Backlund in order to see success. He doesn't always put up points - although he's been doing a pretty decent job of it this season, now that he's finally healthy - but he can pretty much always be counted on to play top-notch defence against the tough assignments. The Oilers don't have a guy like that either. Backlund is beyond impressive, and he needs to be re-signed yesterday.