The Numbers (5v5 SVA):
xG+/- per 60: -0.05
PP%: 29.4% (9th)
PK%: 80.8% (11th)
On-Ice Sh%: 5.19%
On-Ice Sv%: 93.98%
If there was ever a record that screamed “middle of the pack” a 3-3-1 start would be just that. The Flames are sitting just over 50% in possession and just under 50% in quality of shot attempts. They’re running a top 10 powerplay and an extremely high on-ice save % to mask some of the problems that were starting to occur as the segment wore on.
This segment saw the Flames get off to a lacklustre start in Winnipeg only to crawl back in with 40 solid minutes of hockey, a two game beatdown of the – at the time – passionless Canucks, a rough two game stretch that saw Calgary outplay the Maple Leafs for 5/6 periods and get no points for it, and a hard two game series against the best of the division in the Canadiens where Jacob Markstrom was able to steal a win.
There’s a lot to unpack player wise, so we might as well just break into it.
Tkachuk – Lindholm – Dube
Gaudreau – Monahan – Leivo/Simon
Bennett – Backlund – Mangiapane
Lucic – Ryan – Nordstrom
Giordano – Andersson
Hanifin – Tanev
Valimaki - Nesterov
The consistency of Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm really is remarkable. Through 7 games they only posted subpar numbers across the board in one contest, the last game against Montreal (2-0 win). The start to the season showed tremendous chemistry with Dillon Dube whose poised to have a big year and could accelerate himself into the possibility of being a long-term core player should things start to go his way. An early injury had him sit out for a few games, but hopefully in the second segment we really see the player Dube could become.
The second line with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan has gotten off to a significantly better start than they ended last year with. JG13’s prominence on the powerplay is extremely noticeable when watching games. At 5v5 they’ve still yet to find that right linemate to give them even more chemistry. In the brief stints they’ve had together it really looks like Andrew Mangiapane is the missing puzzle piece that could drive that line, but it remains to be seen what Geoff Ward has planned long term for that line. So far Gaudreau and Monahan have posted positive CF% numbers and sup-optimal xGF% numbers. They still need to create more at 5v5 in terms of quality chances and not rely so much on PP production.
The third line comes with news that Sam Bennett has quietly asked for a change of scenery. Sam Bennett this year has posted a 43.46 CF% and an xGF% of just 35.41%. It’s a hard life in the Flames bottom 6 for the centers as a whole. Josh Leivo has started to provide some quality play in recent games, but Bennett, Milan Lucic, and especially Joakim Nordstrom have been liabilities at 5v5. As such Derek Ryan and Mikael Backlunds numbers have also suffered, but both have shown when paired with other linemates their numbers can improve (As tracked per game in the “Analytical Analysis” articles). It is worth noting that Derek Ryan and Dillon Dube have not been out for an even strength goal against this year.
The number one issue from the back end has been the number 1 pair. While Mark Giordano and Rasmus Andersson have been tasked with facing top competition, they’ve had trouble pushing the pace against them. The pair is allowing over 33 shots per 60 minutes against, while getting just shy of 26/60 for. It’s not just getting out possessed either, the quality shot ratio given up by the two has them near the bottom of the league for ALL pairings.
Flip that over to the Flames second pair and it’s as stark a comparison you can make. Noah Hanifin has absolutely gone OFF with Chris Tanev as a partner. The two didn’t allow an even strength goal against while on the ice all while pushing the play into the other teams zone. To say the ice has been tilted with these two out there would be an understatement. The play of these two have really helped mask the problems felt by the first pairings under performance.
Last, but certainly not least, we got the new 3rd pair of Juuso Valimaki and Nikita Nesterov. With a positive xGF ratio and a positive CF% ratio this new pairing was a surprising bright spot to start the year. Geoff Ward has shown no sign of restricting their minutes and even if the rookie Dman makes a mistake he’s not been pinned to the bench for it. The two have played off each other well, especially when communicating in the neutral zone. It’s been a very big benefit to have these two play so strong a game so early in the season. Montreal was able to expose them a bit so the next segment will be huge to see how they’re numbers start to project.
He may not have found the twine in this segment, but Andrew Mangiapane is quickly showing even more growth to his game. He’s constantly in pursuit of loose pucks, winning board battles, and driving the offence for whatever line he’s on. Through 7 games he has an xGF% of 65.36% for 1st on the team. The big factor is his ability to stifle other offences.
Just look at the stark difference of what’s being allowed when Mangiapane is on the ice vs. when he’s on the bench. This man could already start to get some Selke talk because this is absolutely lights out. Just for reference I’ll show noted defensive genious Mark Stone’s impact with and you, the reader, can compare it with Mangiapane’s
So far Mange been elite at both ends of the ice, and it’s just a matter of time before he takes off.
Jacob Markstrom time. High danger SV% of 0.927%, Regular SV% of 0.939%, and a GSAA of 2.70. The MVP award for this segment goes to Jacob Markstrom without any hesitation. The man has been beyond solid, beyond reliable, and brings a calming sense of poise to the position the Flames haven’t had since a prominent Finnish netminder graced the crease in Cowtown. Here’s hoping he stays the same.
I’m of the strict belief that anyones 4th line can’t win or lose a game for you. The deployment of the 4th line by the coach though can. Geoff Ward has done a good job so far of getting everyone to buy into his system and there’s been multiple players that have had notable improvements this season from the last. My one question is Geoff Wards consistent and without wavering decision to always promote Lucic when things are going awry.
Using the same defensive impact model (from Hockeyviz.com) that we used for Mangiapane’s defensive impact we can analyze what Lucic has done so far this year. Offensively at 5v5 that’s been… not the best. This is not the man that should be going over the boards late in games to try and tie it up, that’s going to end up with you losing possession and spending more time in your own zone. It’s questionable, it keeps happening, and I would just like to know why. I’m not advocating for Lucic to be off the team, I do believe he plays a good roll, what i’m advocating is for him to be treated as the 4th line player he currently is and not some offensively gifted saviour.
The Next Segment
Game 1: Feb 1st @ Winnipeg 6pm MST
Game 2: Feb 2nd @ Winnipeg 6pm MST
Game 3: Feb 4th @ Winnipeg 6pm MST
Game 4: Feb 6th Vs. Edmonton 8pm MST
Game 5: Feb 9th Vs. Winnipeg 8pm MST
Game 6: Feb 11th @ Canucks 8pm MST
Game 7: Feb 13th @ Canucks 8pm MST
The Scotia North battles on in the next segment. Calgary will look to continue their strong play against the Canucks while also trying to play 60 minutes (x4) against a Jets squad that has their forward corps firing on all cylinders. The emotion should be there Feb 6th for this seasons first (of 10) Battle of Alberta.
(Statistics from various sources such as Evolving-Hockey.com, Naturalstattrick.com, Hockeyviz.com, & NHL.com)