Three games in and the Calgary Flames have yet to lose a game in regulation. For a team that has struggled out the gate for the last number of seasons, this is a huge step forward. While they made a number of personnel changes going into the season, the real change was the re-designing of their forward lines.
This season, the Flames went with duos of a centre and a left winger, then have put complimentary right wingers alongside them. Here is how things have shaken out so far (minimum five minutes played together).
|Left Wing||Centre||Right Wing|
|Matthew Tkachuk||Elias Lindholm||Dillon Dube|
|Johnny Gaudreau||Sean Monahan||Josh Leivo|
|Andrew Mangiapane||Mikael Backlund||Derek Ryan|
|Andrew Mangiapane||Mikael Backlund||Sam Bennett|
|Milan Lucic||Derek Ryan||Dominik Simon|
Let’s break each line down one by one, looking at their Corsi For percentage (percentage of shot attempts for), scoring chances for percentage, high danger chances for percentage, expected goals for percenage and offensive zone starts percentage. All data used is from Natural Stat Trick. If you want to know more about what these statistics mean, read our primer here.
Tkachuk – Lindholm – Dube
Right up until Dube left the last game with a lower body injury, this line was the Flames’ most productive and consistent line. They have been together for the better part of the Flames’ first three games together, and have looked dynamic.
Above 50% in each category, they have been driving offense the right way night in and night out. They have been on the ice for two goals for and zero against, and have only allowed one high danger chance against in the three games. For reference, the Flames have only scored four goals at even strength so far this season, relying on their powerplay to generate the majority of their goals.
This line combination has been an enormous success for Coach Geoff Ward. While the Flames were confident in Lindholm and Tkachuk together, adding Dube was a big question mark given his age and experience. However, he has continued his strong run of form from the playoffs, and has been excellent so far this season.
Looking at the above chart, it is clear that the Flames look much better with Dube on the ice than without. Their xG/60 drops to 2.1 from 3.02 when Dube is not on the ice. He clearly is making an impact on this new look top line.
The one area to watch is their zone starts. They started off in game one with 45% offensive zone starts, then were over 50% in game two against Vancouver, then were at zero in the third game (albeit in limited minutes). This line should in theory be this season’s 3M line, handling many of the tougher defensive zone starts against quality opposition. This has not been the case thus far, but watch to see if this changes as the season goes on.
Gaudreau – Monahan – Leivo
This is a weird one. Putting Leivo with Gaudreau and Monahan seemed like the right call to make at first. According to data from HockeyViz.com, Leivo has consistently brought his teammates up and has been an above 50% Corsi For player over the last number of seasons. Assuming he can remain healthy, he should be a strong option.
The biggest issue that the Flames saw with Gaudreau and Monahan was their defensive play. Both were shining lights in the attacking zone, but when they were forced to play defense, they crumbled like a house of cards. What is interesting is that the zone starts for this line do not reflect that. They started just 14% of faceoffs in the offensive zone, not great for players who struggle to defend. However, that number went to 77% in game two. Good to see that Coach Ward deployed them differently, even considering he had last change as the home team.
Game three was different, with the team putting Simon with 13 and 23. Simon, who was effective with Sidney Crosby last season in Pittsburgh, was one of the other options being floated around for the right side of this line. While this change may have been more pronounced because the Flames lost Dube in this game, watch to see if this becomes a permanent fixture.
Mangiapane – Backlund – Ryan
This line saw a lot of time on the ice in the first game then mercifully was never put back together again. They looked really bad. When Backlund and Mangiapane are put in the offensive zone as much as they were, and still end up below 50% CF, something is seriously wrong. The answer seemed to be Ryan on the right side, as when Bennett was moved over, the line rebounded quite substantially.
The numbers speak for themselves, and the Flames were able to rectify this without having a goal allowed against this group. Ryan’s optimal spot is clearly down the middle, and not on the right wing. If he’s deployed as the team’s fourth line centre more often than not, he can provide much more positive results.
Mangiapane – Backlund – Bennett
This group looked much better. As mentioned, this line with Ryan, and the bottom line of Lucic with Bennett and Joakim Nordstrom were both looking brutal in the game against Winnipeg, but just swapping one player did a world of difference. The Flames were able to have another group that could handle heavy defensive zone starts, and found a way to make Bennett look better in the regular season. Unsurprisingly, he is benefitting from a Backlund Bump.
Here is where things get interesting. The first two games, this line was tasked with heavy defensive zone starts, and handled them quite well. In the third game of the season against the Vancouver Canucks, this line got eaten alive. They finished with a 0% CF, 0%SCF, and 0% HDCF. That’s zero percent good. Mostly facing off against Adam Gaudette, Antoine Roussel, and Jake Virtanen, the Canucks line ate this line up for breakfast.
Thankfully, Ward was able to move things around after the first period, and the Flames ended up coming away with the victory. It will be interesting to see how the lines shake up if Dube is good to go against Toronto.
Lucic – Ryan – Simon
Ah, the fourth line! The Flames have tinkered with this line the most, swapping Nordstrom out for Simon after the first game, then moving Simon up to play with Gaudreau and Monahan in game three. That being said, this feels like the most natural group for the time being, and is the group that the Flames have gone to the most positivity thus far this season.
Their results are a bit of a mixed bag. Playing a minimal amount of minutes against other team’s bottom groups, they have been outshot, but have managed to keep most of the chances to the outside. On top of that, they have had their chances on net. While they have not had a goal to their name so far this season, they have not allowed any either.
After moving Nordstrom back to the taxi squad, the Flames seem to be happy with this trio in their bottom group. And although they have Simon up with 13 and 23, expect that once Dube comes back, this goes back to the way it was. While not perfect, this is a big improvement from Mark Jankowski centring the line last season.