The Calgary Flames made it through ten games during the 2020 Playoffs. In those ten games, the team showed glimpses of both greatness and mediocrity. On one hand, the Flames had a stellar goaltending performance courtesy of Cam Talbot, a couple players really stepped up their game, including Andrew Mangiapane, Dillon Dube, and even Milan Lucic and Sam Bennett—with the latter playing some of his best playoff hockey in his career.
On the other hand, there were still some gaffes and stumbles, particularly with the top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Elias Lindholm, who weren’t really successful at 5v5 whatsoever. Their deployment was abnormally defensive, which led to some questions about Geoff Ward’s coaching decisions too.
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The Flames are in the midst of a critical offseason that can see drastic changes happening to the team. There are major decisions to be made throughout the entire lineup, and some light on what’s to come was shone during the Flames’ virtual locker clean out.
When it comes to upcoming contracts, Flames have a plethora of free agent decisions to make, and any single contract can be the first domino to fall in the chain of signings that Brad Treliving is tasked with. There’s also public musings about the Flames’ captaincy and whether or not it’s time for Matthew Tkachuk to take the captaincy, or at least the promotion to a full time alternate captain.
However, these are all future problems for the Flames, and we can at least look back instead to breakdown what might have went wrong for the Flames in their 2020 vie for the Stanley Cup. There are many ways to analyse what happened, and each stat or metric is a single component of a much larger picture.
One stat I find interesting is shot distance. It provides a holistic view of which players drive towards the net and which players play around the perimeter. When using it to compare the differences between teams in a series, the idea is that it should provide context for overall shot volume and distance from the net.
Flames playoffs 5v5 shot distances
To visualise shot distances, I grouped Flames playoffs games into the two series against the Winnipeg Jets and the Dallas Stars. This was to show the overall differences between the Flames and their opponents. Over the span of a series, if one team was better at shooting closer to the net and generating scoring chances, the effect should at least start becoming more apparent with a few games played.
Shot distances are measured as the distance between the shot location and net at the centre of the goal line. I plotted shot distances along the y-axis, and the x-axis simply spreads the shots out into a “beeswarm” cluster to aid in visualising the shot volume. In other words, the beeswarm widens along the x-axis when shot volumes are higher, and conversely contracts when shot volumes are lower.
Flames versus Jets
In the first series, the two teams were move evenly matched at 5v5. The Flames scored six goals to the Jets’ 4, and ultimately special teams and goaltending were larger factors in the Flames’ success.
However, when looking at overall shot distances, the Flames seemed to shoot slightly closer to the net than that Jets did. The Flames’ beeswarm widens the most at approximately 25 feet, compared to the Jets having a more uniform beeswarm with many shots coming from distances about or greater than 50 feet.
In four games played, it’s not necessarily a big data set to work with, but there was at least some evidence that showed the Flames were marginally better than the Jets at 5v5, and ultimately the Flames were good enough to advance.
Flames versus Stars
The script completely flips against the Stars. The Flames were severely outplayed at 5v5 across all observations that could be made from comparing shot distances.
The Stars got closer to the net more often, and were able to score from in close much more frequently than the Flames were. The Stars also shot from afar more often too, and again, they were able to outscore the Flames no matter the distance.
In six games played, the two teams had very different beeswarm shapes. The Stars’ beeswarm overshadows the Flames’ being wider at every distance and had 14 5v5 goals. The Flames’ beeswarm ironically ended up looking more like a star, where they just weren’t able to effectively get close to the net and were only able to post 9 goals at 5v5.
What this tells us
Plotting raw shot distances at 5v5 and comparing two teams over a playoff series gives good context into each team’s playing styles. Where the Flames and Jets showed a more evenly matched series at 5v5, things went south quickly for the Flames when they faced off against the defensive Dallas Stars.
A new looking roster is inevitable for the Flames in the upcoming season. Expiring contracts and the flat salary cap mandate significant changes. The Flames should retool while they have the chance to, and focusing on adding players than can generate more 5v5 offence might be a good priority for the Flames.
Even before figuring out the roster makeup, the Flames need to make the call on their coaching too. Every where you look, the Flames have some important decisions to make. Whatever Treliving ends up doing, the Flames stand to benefit the most if they can get better at even-strength, plain and simple.