It seems like yesterday we were just discussing the start of the new Calgary Flames season, but now we are eleven games into what can only be described as a roller-coaster few weeks. The team started out with high expectations, looked primed to meet them, and then plummeted into seriously sloppy play over the past week. They rebounded well against the Washington Capitals on Saturday afternoon, but there are still several question marks. The ire among fans is high at the moment, but it has only been eleven games.

Of course, the start of the season is vastly important for setting the tone for what is to come, but playoff teams are not locked within the first few weeks. That being said, these games are generally pretty reliable as litmus tests to set expectations moving forward.

The 2018-19 Flames simply haven’t been able to establish themselves as a contender yet, but also not as a bottom dweller. The team is off to a 5-5-1 start, and before their nice bounce-back effort against the Capitals, had lost their previous two games in pathetic fashion. Of course, this is an extremely small sample size, but there is simply no telling what type of team is going to be iced on a nightly basis at this stage.

What is interesting is the talk surrounding this year’s start to the season in comparison to others. Many are clamouring that this is the worst start in ages for the team, but is it? The Flames may have suffered a historically embarrassing defeat in game number ten, but how does this year’s team stack in terms of the opening ten games compared to Flames teams of the past? Let’s investigate.

Records

After ten games, the Flames’ record was 5-5-0 start, which actually puts them tied for third in terms of total wins over the past ten seasons with five.

Season

Record

2009-10

7-2-1

2010-11

6-4-0

2011-12

4-5-1

2013

3-4-3

2013-14

4-4-2

2014-15

5-4-1

2015-16

2-7-1

2016-17

4-5-1

2017-18

5-5-0

2018-19

5-5-0

This record matches identically to last year’s start, which we all know didn’t end very well. Of course the 2014-15 Flames also were able to get to five wins, and they sure found a way to make it to the post-season. In terms of points earned, here is how the Flames have fared over the past ten years:

Points Earned Through First 10 Games

It’s been nearly a decade since since the Flames were able to really impress out of the gates. 2009-10 and 2010-11 were the Flames’ best ten game start over the past ten seasons; earning fifteen and twelve points respectively. The “find-a-way” Flames came in third with eleven points, which puts this season’s team in a tie for fourth with ten points through ten games.

Obviously not a terrible start, but also a number that easily could have been higher. The 2018-19 Flames are not in a dire position by any means, imagine if they had gotten off to the 2-7-1 start from the 2015-16 season!

Pucks on Net

Another classic complaint that has been floating around is that the Flames are allowing too many shots, and not capitalizing on theirs. Is that a true statement? Yes and no.

Shots For and Against

Through ten games this season in all situations, the Flames have been able to generate 318 SF, which is the second highest amount in this ten season analysis. The 2010-11 Flames had six more shots at this point. That being said, they also have allowed the second most SA with 322 during the same stretch; last year’s Flames hold the belt for most at 342. The argument can be made that they are allowing far too many shots on goal, but over the past ten seasons the Flames have only had a positive shot differential twice (2010-11 and 2013). So a -4 shot differential isn’t the nail in the coffin. The real question is are these shots translating to tangible offence?

Goals For and Against

Yes! The Flames have scored 33 goals this season, which puts them second behind 2009-10’s torrid opening pace of 40. The Flames have only scored more than 30 goals through ten games twice, with shows that the team has been generating more offence than in previous years. Their lack of puck luck from last season seems to be turning around. In terms of shooting percentages, the Flames appear to be capitalizing on their shots as well.

SH% for Flames Skaters

The second highest shot percentage at 10.7% shows that the team isn’t lacking in terms of being able to put the puck in the net or wasting high shot-on-goal totals. In terms of offence, the Flames appear to be on the right track.

Stopping the Puck

This offensive uptick of course is offset by the 36 goals against, which is tied for the second worst amount over the past ten years. Of course, if you were to exclude the thrashing by Pittsburgh, this number would be much lower. The Flames are simply allowing the puck to go into their net far too much through ten games. This can be attributed to poor defence, but more importantly poorer goaltending.

SV% for Flames Goaltending

As a tandem, Mike Smith and David Rittich are currently sitting at an .876 SV% through ten games. This is good for third worst over the past ten years, but if it weren’t for Rittich’s strong start to the season at a .933, this year’s goaltending would be ranked dead last based on Smith’s .866. This is easily the biggest concern facing the team at this moment, as their offence is unable to pick up the slack created by their starting goaltender.

Smith did have a rebound game against the Capitals in game 11 posting a .899 that boosted his season save percentage to .869. However, this is still a far cry from where he needs to be, and Smith does need to string a few strong starts together if the Flames are to succeed.

Advanced Statistics

The past few seasons, both the Flames and Bill Peters’ Carolina Hurricanes were regarded as “advanced statistics darlings”. Posting high possession numbers on the ice, but never being able to translate them to points in the standings. How does the potent combination stack up now?

CF%, SCF% and HDCF%

Funnily enough, the 2018-19 Flames hold the highest CF% compared to the past ten years at 54.0%. The team clearly has the edge in terms of possession, but what is concerning is the drop in HDCF%. The team took more than a 4% drop year-to-year in being able to convert on high danger chances. You wouldn’t think that based on their improved offensive numbers, but perhaps this is the team’s greatest area for improvement. The high danger chances being allowed are most likely to blame for this drop, in addition to poor goaltending.

What is concerning as well is to see the disparity between all three statistical categories. Normally each one follows a similar trend over the past ten seasons, but this year they appear to be deviating from the normal.

This year’s Flames team is one that is able to dominate possession, generate a higher proportion of scoring chances, but one that gives up far too many high danger chances that are most likely capitalized on. Cleaning up their play in the defensive zone is the biggest necessity going forward.

Where to now?

The 2018-19 Flames clearly have a lot of work to do, and a long road ahead, before the determination on their season is made. They clearly have made a strong offensive impression over their first ten games, but also are being dragged down by too many high danger chances and poor starting goaltending.

If we are looking at this team comparatively against the past ten seasons of Flames teams, they definitely appear to be on the higher end of the scale. Sure, some of those years didn’t pan out quite like their starts, but there are many positives this year’s team has already shown that were missing in years past.

Things may not look as promising at the current moment, but it is far too early to write this team off based on what we have seen over the past ten years. There is lots of season left to play, and the Flames are still very much in a position to have a great season.

What are your thoughts? How do you think this team stacks up over the past ten years? Let me know at @johnmackinnon24 or @wincolumnblog.


Data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.

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