Eighteen games into the season, the Calgary Flames find themselves battling for the top spot in the Pacific Division. While it’s true that the Pacific is weak this year, another reason the Flames are in the conversation for top Pacific team to begin with is their goal scoring.

Last season, the Flames were unable to find the back of the net on many nights, and it sunk them. They were out of the playoff race well before the end of the season, and management was faced with the task of bringing in players who could fix the scoring woes.

Brad Treliving went to work in the offseason and completely turned the Calgary Flames roster around. Enter Elias Lindholm. Enter James Neal. These two players were brought in to contribute to the offence and their arrival made the Flames’ forward depth enviable for many other teams. For the first time in what felt like ages, rolling four lines with useful players seemed like a real possibility for Bill Peters and company.

Much to the pleasure of management, the coaching staff, the players, and the fans, the Flames have seemingly broken out of their 2017-18 season-long scoring slump. For basically the entirety of the 2018-19 season, the Flames have been in the top third of the league in terms of goals-for, and at times were even first overall in the category.

After 18 games played, they have scored 56 times, good for an average of 3.11 goals per game. Last season, they finished at a mere 2.66 goals per game. Breaking the three goal threshold is key, as averaging three goals per game is actually good enough for a win more often than not.

The increase in goals has certainly been noticed. They’ve already made several come-from-behind wins with tremendous work in the third period. They’ve found ways to score goals in all sorts of situations, and have certainly earned their wins.

Suffice to say, these Flames are much improved compared to last season in terms of scoring. Shooting percentages were bound to regress, and a handful of Flames have been the primary beneficiaries.

To break down how the Flames have scored their goals, I tried my hand at creating an “alluvial diagram” using R to visualise the relationship between game state and goal scorer. It was made in hopes of being an immediate evaluative measure of how the Flames have been scoring, and which players are getting the job done.

CGY_GStateScorer18

To start, the Flames have scored in seven unique situations. Of course, they’ve scored at even strength and on the powerplay, and they recently got their first true shorthanded goal of the season against Anaheim courtesy of Mark Jankowski.

Indeed, they’ve found ways to score to tie up the game when their own goalie was on the bench, or score on their opponent’s empty net to seal the victory. Twice they were even able to score on the empty net while being shorthanded as well. In overtime, they’ve found success, courtesy of their very own overtime-phenom Johnny Gaudreau.

The Flames could have had an eighth scoring method, as they have had two penalty shots awarded to Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett, but neither were able to seize the golden opportunity to score.

Nevertheless, to say scoring is a concern would be a misguided statement for this iteration of the Flames. However, add in “on the powerplay” and all warnings lights will flash red. They’ve still struggled on the man-advantage, and would have more likely than not opened up a significant gap in the Pacific Division standings if they have had better success in that regard.

On the other side of the diagram, it’s clear that the bulk of the goal scoring has been accomplished by a handful of players. Lindholm, Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk, and Michael Frolik combine for 32 goals, more than half of the team’s season total. That’s not ideal at all, but at the same time, at least they’re scoring.

The former three are all pacing the way, finding themselves among the top of the league for scoring. Include Gaudreau and the Flames have four point scorers in the Top 35 (Mark Giordano sits at the 50th spot). Having five players in the Top 50 is one mighty fine accomplishment to say the least.

Frolik has been an odd case so far this season, as he has scored seven goals with zero assists. A main candidate for Bill Peters to slot up and down the lineup, Frolik has had a plethora of linemates, none of whom he’s been able get assist for yet.

When four players make up over half the goals scored, it also means that many other players are not scoring. Several players have been off to agonisingly slow starts, including Neal, Bennett, Jankowski, Mikael Backlund, Derek Ryan, and Austin Czarnik. In due time, the pucks will start going in for them; it’s not always the player’s fault and puck luck sometimes just doesn’t work out.

However, it’s getting to the point in the season where consequences of poor play are no longer acceptable. The coaching staff have taken notice to lacklustre efforts, with the most recent example being the complete third period benching of Neal and Czarnik in their game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Flames genuinely have the offensive depth to be a force to reckon with. Despite the welcomed improvements over last season, they’re still probably not at their most optimal. That brings both hope and despair, as the Flames have the potential to be really, really good, but they also need to start seeing scoring on behalf of all their players for that to happen.

As the season pushes forward, there’s reason to be optimistic about the 2018-19 Flames, as they definitely have the talent and just need to work on their execution. Of the Flames regulars, several of their defensemen are still looking for their first goals of the season. Noah Hanifin, T.J. Brodie, Rasmus Andersson, and Michael Stone have all yet to find the back of the net.

The Flames have one forward that’s been held completely goalless, and it’s not for the lack of trying. Once Dillon Dube returns from injury, expect him to be hungrier than ever for his first NHL goal.

The quarter-mark of the season draws nearer and nearer, and the Flames are making their identity known. They’re a team that will find ways to score no matter the situation, and if they keep putting up full 60-minute efforts, they’re going to be rewarded. The Flames have been known to out-battle and out-chance the other team, even before this season, but they’re finally finding success at out-scoring as well.


All data courtesy of NHL.com. Colour palette via colorbrewer2.org.

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