The Calgary Flames made a handful of offseason moves that were supposed to elevate the team into a different level of Stanley Cup contention. In a weak North Division, the Flames were given an opportunity to show what they could. Apparently, playing mediocre hockey is what they had to show the North.
There is an almanac of things the Flames need to improve upon if the remainder of season is to turn around in their favour. While in the grand scheme of things, it’s still early, teams across the league are already reaching critical points of determining where they stand in terms of playoff contention.
For the Flames, missing the playoffs isn’t really an option, so they’re certainly not going to call anything off until Game 56. It’s not going to be pretty unless the team works out their problems as soon as possible.
Areas of improvement
On Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, we asked the following question:
What area of the Flames system needs immediate improvement and how should it be improved? We’re not talking long term moves, things they can do in the offseason, etc. Just things that can get them out of their current rut.
Without further ado, these are some points mentioned by those who answered.
The most common response was adjusting their breakouts. Too frequently this season, the Flames’ transitional play has been shut down in the neutral zone. Their opponents have read the books on the Flames and made the far too easy adjustment of simply clogging up the neutral zone. It’s been hurting the Flames ability to generate clean chances on transition.
The most obvious adjustment in this case would be making better passes and skating into the offensive zone. Specifically on the power play, the Flames trademarked drop pass that’s broadcasted to the entire NHL and its subsidiaries is so easily defended against at this point. The Flames are simply killing their own offence by failing to change their transitional system.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be entirely abandoned, but it’s awful watching the Flames power play consistently burn 20 seconds per zone entry attempt that has the same success rate as a coin flip. Vary the entries, keep the defence on their toes, and just work towards being a team that’s harder to play against.
On top of wanting to have better transitions into offence is the offensive zone play itself. The Flames are a team that have the skill to have sustained offensive pressure, but this hasn’t exactly been the case. After 17 games, they’re sitting at 50.3 CF% (all stats are 5v5, score-and-venue adjusted from NaturalStatTrick.com). That’s 14th in the league, and more importantly (and perhaps surprisingly) is 2nd in the North, only behind Montreal’s 55.7%.
Of course, equating CF% to sustained pressure isn’t exactly a one-to-one comparison, but it’s a good enough proxy for discussion purposes. The problem with the Flames here, lies with how their forwards are deployed. There’s a level of inconsistency in their play that’s magnified when looking and their lines.
Let’s preface this with stating an obvious fact first: Not worried about Mikael Backlund, Andrew Mangiapane, or Matthew Tkachuk. All three of these players are above water in terms of CF% at 5v5 SVA, and haven’t shown signs of slowing down. Also, give Milan Lucic some credit here too, he’s also been a positive corsi player, and has been having an all around good start so far.
What’s troublesome is how Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are being burned by their linemate. Dominik Simon and Sam Bennett have been the duo’s most common two linemates. Using NaturalStatTrick’s line tool, let’s see how Gaudreau and Monahan are affected by the other two at 5v5.
|Gaudreau / Monahan Linemate||TOI||CF%||xGF%|
The numbers are telling. When Gaudreau and Monahan are away from either Simon or Bennett, they’re genuinely dominant with little room for argument. With Simon, they’re mediocre, and with Bennett they’re abhorrent. This is of course putting one observation under the microscope and ignoring a bunch of others, but it’s still an important one to highlight. If two of the Flames’ best scorers are hampered by their linemate, that’s problematic. The Flames need to figure out who’s playing where.
The Flames are in some kind of trouble. There’s a small caveat that the Flames haven’t had any games against the Ottawa Senators. The Flames will finally face the Senators on February 25, but they go into the season series essentially with every game being must-win in order to keep pace with the other teams in playoff contention.
Truthfully, it’s still early in the season. Anything can happen in the second half, and the Flames just have to be in the top four in the North to get into the playoffs. But it’s been said many times before—a single cold streak can ruin a team’s chances as every other team moves ahead in the division. The Flames are currently in this cold streak.
There are so many questions to ask and fingers to point, but right now Calgary has a big task at hand of diagnosing their problems and finding remedies that are both quick to enact and long-lasting. Failure to do so can be devastating for both this season and for the future of the Flames.
Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images