After finishing first in the Pacific Division, first in the Western Conference, and second in the NHL through 82 regular season games last year, the Calgary Flames are floundering out the gate. They sit at a 6-6-2 record, good for just sixth place in the Pacific, ninth in the West, and 17th overall.
They haven’t managed to put together a full 60 minute effort at all through the month of October, have surrendered leads heading into the third period many times, and have generally struggled to score goals in all situations. The lines have been put into an industrial blender, the team has been publicly called out multiple times, but nothing seems to be working just yet.
The Flames are playing at a level that doesn’t even remotely resemble the team who looked downright unstoppable for large portions of last season, and are on the outside looking in on the playoff picture following the opening month of the season.
The popular tune is that the Flames are always a slow starting team. Even last season didn’t get out to a great start, but they figured it out as winter approached and soared up the standings after that. While that’s a convenient narrative, it isn’t all that accurate. This season’s version of the Flames is severly lagging behind last year’s, and they’ll need to address numerous issues if they want to make the playoffs for the second straight year.
For ease of comparison, we’ll look at the opening 14 games for the team last year and this year, despite their 14th game in 2018 coming on the first of November.
The Flames have three fewer points this season compared to last, but four fewer ROWs. While it’s nice the team has finally started to win some shootouts, it’s not a good sign they haven’t been able to close out games in regulation or overtime.
They’ve been better at home this season, picking up points in five of their six home games, but dreadful on the road, only managing to earn points in three of their eight road games.
|Year||GF||GA||DIFF||GF%||# of Goal Scorers|
Through 14 games, the Flames have scored 10 fewer goals this year compared to last. The team’s goal scoring issues is definitely one of the biggest problems so far; this 10 goal difference drops their average from 3.36 G/GP last season to 2.64 this season. It’s a significant drop that hasn’t been offset by allowing fewer goals either.
The Flames have been better at preventing goals this year, down by five to 41 GA compared to 46 GA last year, but their goal differential is down five as well from +1 last season to -4 this season. Their goals for percentage is below 50% as well.
One positive is the Flames have 15 players who have scored at least one goal for the team so far, up from 14 last year. It’s definitely a good sign that more players are scoring, they just need to do it with more regularity going forward.
|Year||PP Opp||PPG||PP%||Shots||SHG Allowed|
This season, the Flames’ powerplay is off to a two percent better pace than it was at the same time last year. The Flames have had 12 fewer powerplay opportunities, but scored just one fewer goal.
On a per powerplay basis, the team is hitting the net at a lower rate, but this could be attributed to the higher conversion rate.
All in all, the powerplay is doing much better to start this season compared to last.
|Year||Times Shorthanded||PPG Allowed||PK%||Shots Allowed||SHG Scored|
The penalty kill is similar to the powerplay. The Flames have been shorthanded more times this season, up by seven compared to last year, but have allowed half as many goals and just five more shots.
With a penalty killing rate of around 87%, the Flames are doing an excellent job killing off the increased number of penalties they’ve been taking. They have yet to score a shorthanded goal this season, but other than that aspect, the penalty kill is off to a impressive start.
Possession is an area that is lacking this season in a couple areas. The Flames are lower this year in both CF% and SCF%, the latter below 50% compared to 51% at the same time last season.
The Flames’ HDCF% is up, but still under the 50% threshold. Quality scoring chances are hard to come by this season, and that’s likely the main reason the Flames’ have struggled to score through the opening month.
They’ll need to address their possession if they want to right the ship.
Compared to last season, the Flames are simply not getting the puck towards the net at the same rate they were last season.
They’re severely behind in shot attempts, scoring chances, and high danger chances, and only on par with shots on goal. The Flames are not generating as many chances at 5v5, another key reason why they haven’t been able to put the puck in the net with any regularity this season.
The tandem of Mike Smith and David Rittich last season was quite good through the team’s first month. They combined for solid save percentages across the board and allowed an average of 2.07 goals per game.
This season, the tandem of Rittich and Cam Talbot hasn’t been as good. They’ve allowed the same number of goals through 14 games, but are behind in all save percentages at 5v5.
Interestingly, it appears that Rittich and Talbot have been more than adequate for the Flames this year. Because 14 games is still a relatively small sample size, it’s likely that the goaltending statistics are skewed due to a few bad losses, namely the pair’s loss to the Los Angeles Kings, and Rittich’s loss to the Vegas Golden Knights. Judging from how inconsistent Smith was last season, it’s a safe assumption that these goaltending statistics will correct themselves over time.
Overall, the Flames simply haven’t played the same way they did last season. Even considering the team was slow out the gate last year, this year’s slow start is much more concerning for the team. They aren’t owning possession or generating the chances necessary to score the goals they need to win games.
Special teams has been the sole bright spot through 14 games, but the Flames will need much more than a solid powerplay and solid penalty killing to stay in the playoff hunt.