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The Desperation Squad: Analyzing the Flames with the net empty

The Flames often were down one goal with seconds to spare and succeeded. Let's look at how.

Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

Without question, the most exciting moments of a hockey game are the dying seconds of a close game. Goalie pulled, extra attacker out, shots being fired desperately at the net for a chance at another five minutes or less of hockey. The story of the Calgary Flames' season was their prowess in the third period and knack for late goals. When they pulled the goalie, the Flames lead the league in goals scored with 10, and their -1 differential was good for third in the league.

Whether it be pure dumb luck, grit, overcoming adversity, or what have you, the team produced when it counted. While it would be easy to defer to clutch in matters like this, we're going to be taking an analytical look at why the Flames were so successful and efficient with the net empty compared to other teams.

All stats are for players who played a minimum of ten minutes with the goalie pulled.


Player Usage:

(The three named jumbled at 17.5 are Mikael Backlund, Curtis Glencross, and Joe Colborne)

  • No surprises that Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie are at the top of the chart. Toughest competition, corsi leaders, eating up time. Just business as usual.
  • However, the overall leader is Jiri Hudler. He was played on almost every extra attacker situation, and it's easy to see why. He keeps the puck in the offensive end, and produces with it.
  • Curtis Glencross was also a sneaky good player during these scenarios. He lost his role when Johnny Gaudreau was promoted to the first line...
  • ...which didn't always pay dividends. Surprisingly, he was a hazard during the extra skater period, even against somewhat weaker opponents.
  • Hey look! It's Joe Colborne actually being very useful. He was usually used as the extra skater to set up the screen, which works well for his "be big and do nothing" style of hockey. He frees up Monahan to work within the home plate area, his most deadly region. Colborne's fancy hands are also a useful asset on the 6v5, which only makes me wish he could play every scenario like 6v5.
  • As per usual, Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman were massive liabilities. They couldn't keep the puck in, and usually turned the puck over, which usually results in a goal.
  • Mason Raymond is still not very helpful.

Points Production:


Goals Assists Points G/60 A/60 P/60 TOI/G
Jiri Hudler 3 3 6 4.05 4.05 8.10 0.97
Sean Monahan 1 1 2 1.70 1.70 3.40 0.75
Mark Giordano 0 3 3 0 6.83 6.83 0.73
Curtis Glencross 1 2 3 3.01 6.02 9.03 0.60
Dennis Wideman 1 2 3 1.85 3.69 5.54 0.69
Johnny Gaudreau 3 2 5 5.35 3.57 8.92 0.73
TJ Brodie 0 1 1 0 2.54 2.54 0.50
Kris Russell 0 4
4 0 11.14 11.14 0.48
Joe Colborne 0 1 1 0 3.50 3.50 0.45
Mikael Backlund
0 0 0 0 0 0 0.41
Mason Raymond 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.34

  • Backlund and Raymond aren't surprising given their ice time. Backlund is forgiven for not being an offensively inclined player, but Raymond's lack of production is further evidence of his already disappointing season.
  • Hudler is clearly the driver of the desperation squad. He was sent out at almost every opportunity, even more so than his line mates.
  • Though, it's not as if they weren't producing as well. Glencross and Gaudreau did get to work during this opportunities.
  • Monahan's points total might be disappointing, but I feel that it is a systems issue rather than a player issue. Hartley's system with any man advantage is to get the puck to the blue line and blast it, hoping for a rebound. With Colborne providing the screen, and Monahan in the centre home plate area, the puck often bounces to wingers eager to bury the rebound. Poor Sean.
  • Speaking of the back end, there are more surprising points totals to be found. Brodie was a top performer possession wise, but struggled to find the net. I would again go to systems for the explanation; Gio was the top choice to start the play, and #5 was often the pulled-goalie-general rather than #7.
  • Another reason for Brodie's lack of points was the fact that Wideman was given more time than Brodie. Hartley (over)values his slapshot, so he got the call. This was also the same setup on the powerplay, where Wideman scored 21 points compared to Brodie's 8.
  • Russell didn't get the call until Gio went down, but he sure made it count. He racked up four assists despite his poor usage stats, but the next section may have some answers.

Shots, Scoring Chances, and High Danger Data:


SoG

SF

SA

SFrel%

iSC

SCF

SCA

SCrel%

iHD

HDF

HDA

HDrel%

TOI/G

Jiri Hudler

5

52

9

18.58

6

51

10

-2.11

5

31

6

-16.22

0.97

Sean Monahan

5

34

7

-2.26

7

32

6

-0.16

4

22

2

12.72

0.75

Mark Giordano

4

31

4

7.62

3

35

2

18.59

0

21

2

13.53

0.73

Curtis Glencross

6

30

4

9.29

10

33

5

9.57

5

22

3

8.00

0.60

Dennis Wideman

3

34

9

-12.93

3

33

9

-14.29

0

24

4

-0.95

0.69

Johnny Gaudreau

11

30

8

-10.71

10

32

9

-15.05

7

24

4

-0.95

0.73

TJ Brodie

3

24

3

8.40

2

28

5

1.06

0

16

2

4.89

0.50

Kris Russell

3

19

6

-11.80

3

18

6

-13.89

0

13

4

-15.53

0.48

Joe Colborne

2

13

0

24.24

1

13

2

4.31

0

5

2

-19.48

0.45

Mikael Backlund

4

13

1

19.17

3

13

1

8.65

1

7

1

-12.50

0.41

Mason Raymond

2

6

3

-17.54

2

8

0

19.44

1

6

0

21.74

0.34

  • Don't be fooled by Raymond. While he does have some good stats, he did play the least of all those who played more than 10 minutes, and generated the least shots, scoring chances, and high danger chances by the counting numbers. The fact that he couldn't generate more than that while still getting ten minutes of ice time in these scenarios is saddening.
  • Is it any surprise that Giordano and Brodie are killing it? They were the only ones (still on the team) that had positive numbers in the relative categories. They certainly know what they're doing.
  • Hudler is surprisingly negative in the scoring chances area, both in negative numbers for SCrel and HDrel. It's not too troubling, considering his numbers could be skewed by guys like Raymond, who played for a little bit and generated enough chances to leave a positive impact on the charts.
  • Monahan, as he consistently has been throughout the season, is a danger in high danger areas. While his stats don't show him as a play generating shots and scoring chances, he is important inside the home plate area.
  • We can see where Gaudreau gets his points from despite his negative statistics. He leads the team with seven individual high-scoring chances, and is tied for second for HDF. He's certainly dangerous, both positively and negatively.
  • Wideman is also a lot like Johnny Gaudreau in these situations. He's able to create high danger chances, which is nice, but he also hurts the team with regards to shot and scoring chance generation.
  • Gaudreau's inclusion into extra attacker situations came at the expense of Glencross, which may have been a mistake. If the former Flame has stayed on that unit, he probably would've generated more points and chances than Gaudreau.
  • Backlund; still sneaky good. In a small sample size, he was able to generate scoring chances. He could potentially be a useful sixth man.
  • Colborne really doesn't do much, but he's still helpful in these situations.
  • Kris Russell is still an absolute contradiction to everything. He is actively hurting the team, as seen by his high SA, SCA, and HDA numbers. He doesn't generate scoring chances, low or high danger, but still managed to get four assists in his short stint on the unit.

Analysis:

If the Flames want to continue their success on the unit, they're going to have to decide which style they want to play; calm and controlled, or risk and reward? Hudler, Monahan, and Giordano can keep play alive in the offensive zone, as they did for most of the season. Glencross did too, and the unit worked well. When Gaudreau worked his way up the roster while Glencross struggled, it was only natural to swap the two for 6v5 duty.

This was the mistake. Glencross performed better in all aspects of the game at 6v5, but Gaudreau, based on his 5v5 performance, looked like a better option. It was a rational move, and the eye-test and points production confirmed it, but he was dangerous with the net empty.

Gaudreau's playing style is pure aggression with the puck. As the stats show, he can create danger both ways, either scoring or helping the other team score. At 5v5, he can give and take the puck away a lot, but in equal amounts. That cancels itself out at 5v5. At 6v5, it's dangerous. He lead the team with three giveaways with the goalie pulled, and that will usually mean certain death. He's a high-risk, high-reward player, and it shows.

To a lesser extent, this also applies on the defensive end. Giordano is a stable player on the blueline, and probably owns a permanent place in life-or-death scenarios. The other options are less clear. Hartley clearly prefers Wideman for his high powered slapshot, despite Brodie being a sturdier yet less dangerous option. Russell is also a curious option, providing points while slapping the face of analytics in the process. Of all the players on this team to face regression, the one it will hit the hardest will be Russell, and the Flames can't afford his poor play in desperate situations.

To tie up loose ends, Raymond, Backlund, and Colborne could be an interesting mix of players to rotate for the sixth man option. Colborne's main flaws are eliminated when his role is reduced, and it works for the Flames. Backlund, as we've repeated ad inifitum throughout the season, is a good set up man, which could pay dividends. Raymond didn't do many good things, but also didn't do a lot of bad things, but could be worth an extra look come next season.

For guys we didn't cover because of sample sizes - Josh Jooris, Matt Stajan, David Jones, Lance Bouma, etc - it is hard to judge them, but gut feeling tells me that Jooris could be a reliable player with the goalie pulled. He is the only player not studied here to score a goal at 6v5, and his skill set seems ideal for the situation.

Conclusion:

For the 2015-16 Flames, my ideal extra attacker squad should sound rather familiar: Gaudreau, Monahan, Hudler, Giordano, Brodie, and Jooris.

While I was negative about Gaudreau's performance at 6v5, I definitely feel that Brodano on the blueline could be a stabilizing influence. They could more easily contain a potential turnover and force a dump in or 150 shot rather than the alternatives allowing an easy empty netter. The good cancels out the terrible.

This is all contingent on form and injuries, but it's easy to see why this is a good option. The first line and pairing has been dynamite, and that's what the Flames need in desperate situations. They have produced, and will continue to produce, but only if Hartley doesn't mess around with it.