Calgary Flames

Last Minute Success: How the Flames have fared with and against empty nets

While hockey analytics have generally focused on performance at even strength, it is often easy to forget about the other situations that lead to winning or losing hockey games. One of the most forgotten situations is the play with one goalie pulled. In late game situations, playing at 6V5 to try and tie the game, or playing the reverse when you have a lead are really important moments in a game.

They also have hidden benefits. For example, the NHL does not put empty net points into a special category, so in a year when a team wins a number of games, players will have many opportunities to pad their stats, without those stats being studied critically by the majority of the hockey communities. Conversely, scoring 6v5 goals can “steal” points for teams and give teams a chance to win the game in overtime.

How have the Flames fared so far this season? Lets start with playing with the empty net, as in pulling your goalie to try to score.

6V5 Goals6V5 Goals/606V5 GF%
League RankingT – 1st8th6th

In this situation, the Flames have scored a league leading five goals this season, although they have played in this situation a lot. Their rates per 60 minutes are more towards the middle of the pack, but actual production does matter, and the Flames have scored more in this situation than any other team in the league.

What is impressive is that Calgary has actually scored more goals in this situation than they have allowed. That is with their own net empty, they have scored more than the other team. Their GF% is 55.6% which is sixth best in the league, with only nine teams with 50% or better.

What explains this trend? Well for starters the Flames have played a lot in the 6v5 situation. The team has struggled to start the year, and this has been reflected by playing from behind at the end of many games. The Flames are currently second in the league having played 21:55 this season with the empty net, so the obvious answer is that they score a lot here, because they play a lot.

Let’s look more critically as to what is setting them up to be successful with six players on the ice. The first is that Rasmus Andersson has proven to be an excellent player with the empty net. The Flames empty net alignment features Mark Giordano at the point with Andersson, both of whom are on their proper, “non one-timer” sides. Calgary does an excellent job in these situations of moving the puck through the half wall, usually Johnny Gaudreau up to Andersson who quickly fires it on net. While it has not gone in for him, he has the primary assist on three of the five goals this year scored with an empty net, and they have come from rebounds. This play is so effective that it bears asking the question of why Andersson is not used more on the power play.

The other explanation is that Matthew Tkachuk has shown a penchant for scoring huge goals. This season, Tkachuk is tied for the league lead, already with two goals when playing with the extra attacker. This may be a result of being in the right place at the right time, as he usually plays right in front of the net when the Flames have the man advantage. Dating back to last season, Tkachuk is tied for third with six such goals.

What about the other side? How have the Flames fared when defending against an empty net?

5V6 GF5V6 GA5V6 GF%
League RankingT-7thT – 1stT – 1st

Again, Calgary has actually done remarkably well in this situation, having not allowed a single goal against. Given their struggles this season, the Flames have played the fourth fewest time against the empty net. Although this is a small sample size, it shows that when the Flames do have the lead, they lock the game down and hold it.

One interesting angle here though is the amount that it pays to win games and score empty net goals. Last season, the Flames led the league with 21 goals scored against the empty net. Scoring empty netters really helps players in the stats column, for example Elias Lindholm scored a total of eight points into the empty net. That accounts for more than 10% of his scoring in all strengths last year, and helps to show how winning games pays dividends for players. This year, the Flames have not had the opportunities, and their players have not had the boost in the scoring that comes with winning games.

Overall, the Flames have played very well with and against the empty net. While some might suggest this is “lucky” the Flames were excellent in these situations and it has continued into the new year. Calgary will hope to not have to rely last second goals as much in the future, but their play at the end of games has helped keep them competitive during an otherwise extremely difficult start to the season.

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