The Flames and the Jets were two very different teams in 2019-20. Just one year ago, the Flames were the best regular season team in the Western Conference, and they struggled to find the same winning ways this year. The Jets have not looked as dominant as they should given their offensive firepower, but rode the coattails of their goaltender to find themselves contending for the Stanley Cup.
The on-ice products of these two teams this past season were drastically different from one another. While there are many ways to make comparisons, using expected goals (xG) can be a relatively quick and easy way to understand what makes these two teams so different.
Expected goals automatically take into account shot quality and context to try and evaluate the chances any given shot has of turning into a goal. Different models use different combinations of on-ice stats and values to derive their own xG values.
In this case, we’ll look at NaturalStatTrick‘s xG model, and compare the Flames and the Jets based on their xG differential rates. By looking at the differential rates, it gives a top-level view of whether a player has generated better shots when on the ice versus the shots they concede per 60 minutes. Stats are taken at 5v5 and are score-and-venue-adjusted to reflect more fair comparisons, and are also filtered to only show players with at least 500 minutes of 5v5 time on ice.
In short, the formula is simply (xGF-xGA)/60. Ranking players on each respective team and also looking at their corsi differentials can reveal how they perform on the ice in terms of shot generation and the quality associated with it. Corsi differentials are similarly (CF-CA/60).
Let’s break down the differences between the Flames and the Jets.
Calgary Flames expected Goals differential
For the most part, the Flames were an average team when it came to xG differentials. No single Flame was in the top or bottom of the league among playoff skaters. The entire team was bounded between approximately +0.30 and -0.30. Given that other teams have players that boasted +1.2 or were dragged down by -1.1 xG differentials, the Flames being mostly mediocre should be an area of less concern.
There are Flames above water and there are Flames underwater, but at the end of the day, one should expect that all of these players will get their fair share of minutes against the Jets.
The Flames were led by three forwards and three defencemen. At the top, Andrew Mangiapane has fared the best, followed by Rasmus Andersson and Mark Giordano. Then you have Matthew Tkachuk, Sam Bennett, and T.J. Brodie. These six are in the tier of their own, and throughout the course of the season have been solid skaters with reliable results.
What bodes well for the Flames in this case, are that three forwards listed might very well be big difference makers against the Jets. Mangiapane could be an x-factor in the series, and of course Tkachuk and Bennett have both been known to dial it up in the playoffs.
With Travis Hamonic opting to sit out of the playoffs, his ability to eat up minutes will be missed the most. However, his impact in terms of xG differentials were bleak. If Erik Gustafsson or Derek Forbort fare a bit better, the Flames would have a very presentable defensive corps that can be relied upon to get the puck out of their own zone and maintain more pressure in the offensive zone.
The Flames’ first line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Elias Lindholm didn’t boast the best numbers by any means, so they’ll be a line to watch for. The Flames’ playoff success doesn’t necessarily hinge on one line, but having your top line performing at their best goes a long way. Managing that line and making sure they are in the offensive zone more often than not can flip their fortune and allow them to apply the necessary pressure to solve Connor Hellebuyck.
Winnipeg Jets expected goal differentials
The Jets were a puzzling team this season. With the fire power they have upfront, they were not a very good team at even strength. Not a single player had a positive differential, and most of these skaters actually find themselves at the bottom of all players skating in the qualifiers/playoffs.
The same guys to watch for, such as Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, and Kyle Connor, were all horrendous at generating quality shots at 5v5. Even their best player in this metric, Blake Wheeler, still falls short of breaking even.
When it comes to corsi differentials, many of the Jets fell well short of evens. Nikolaj Ehlers has the best corsi differential of all skaters in the upcoming series, but still, his xG differential shows that the shot attempts that were taken when he was on the ice were not of great quality.
One of the biggest factors that can explain the Jets’ on-ice product was the departures of Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers. Quickly referring to Natural Stat Trick, Byfuglien posted a positive xG differential last season while Myers did not.
Would things have been different had the Jets this year had their defence corps been closer to what it’s been the past few years? It’s hard to tell, but the system that the Jets are using right now aren’t doing their forwards any favours, and their defencemen fare even worse.
What can we expect?
When you look at Flames and then the Jets, it’s abundantly clear that these two teams have very different performances on the ice. When it comes to the playoffs, anything could happen, but these two teams might lead to clear cut stories.
On one hand, the Flames, though not necessarily as dominate as they were last season, can still be dangerous. Over a course of game, they can sustain good pressure if they play to their strengths. But facing a team that has Hellebuyck in between the pipes, the difference between expected goals versus actual goals might take a hit and the Flames might be battling against a hot goaltender throughout the series.
On the other hand, the Jets might not be able to get much offence going at all, but the Flames have a big question mark regarding their own goaltending, whether it’ll be David Rittich or Cam Talbot backstopping the team. In either case, the Flames’ starter can’t afford to make many mistakes as that could be the difference maker.
The Flames win if they can get solid goaltending and use their offence against the Jets. The Jets win if they n do the bare minimum on offence while having their goaltender do the heavy lifting.
Let’s see if these expectations come to fruition. Hockey. Is. Back.