The Calgary Flames finished the first half of their season 13-12-3, good for fifth in the North Division. Their overall record and on-ice product was not something to be proud of and it ultimately led to the firing of Geoff Ward, giving him a fairly short stint as the team’s official head coach. Had the Flames been able to score a little more, maybe Ward’s job could have been saved.
The lack of offence was alarming. The team was plagued with playing hockey while trailing much more often than they did while leading. As per NaturalStatTrick.com, out of 1693:47 all-situations time on ice, the Flames trailed for 629:18, which ranked them 23rd in the league as of March 13 (when Calgary hit the halfway point of their season). For context, they played 561:59 while leading, ranked 15th in the league.
Alas, the Flames made it to the midpoint of the season with 24 games under Ward, two games with Ryan Huska, and two games with Darryl Sutter behind the bench. Over those 28 total games, the Flames scored just 75 goals for, equating to a rate of 2.68 goals per game—ranking them 24th.
To dissect what transpired with the Flames offence, visualising their goals scored by game state and scorer provides a way to evaluate their overall production across all situations.
Flames goals by game state and scorer
The visualisation is an alluvial diagram that puts the game state in the left hand column and scorer in the right hand column. The count of each event is shown and the relationship between the game state and scorer can be seen by following the flow.
Game states are broken down based on the number of skaters on the ice for the Flames and their opponents. Colours are used to show the different game states, and both game state and scorer are sorted by descending totals.
The visualisation is created with R using the “tidyverse” and “ggalluvial” packages, and modified in Adobe Illustrator. The colour palette is adapted from Carto. All data used in the visualisation is obtained from MoneyPuck.com. Click on the image for full size.
Observations from the data
As mentioned, the Flames scored just 75 goals in the first half. Calgary’s scoring depth has been mediocre, and they’re going to need to see better performances if they want to make it back into a playoff spot. Early signs suggest that Sutter will put much more emphasis on defence, but their offence needs work too.
At 5v5, the Flames have scored 51 goals coming from 18 different scorers. Andrew Mangiapane leads the Flames with six goals, with Johnny Gaudreau and Milan Lucic following with five goals apiece. No one else has more than four, and the biggest names who are lacking in 5v5 production include Matthew Tkachuk and Sean Monahan. They have just four and three goals, respectively, which is worrisome for both of them, especially for Monahan.
Overall, the Flames have not fared well at 5v5, especially not in the second quarter. There are a handful of Flames that have only scored at 5v5 as well. This includes Josh Leivo, Sam Bennett, Noah Hanifin as the three players with at least two goals, and five others with one goal each.
Looking at their 5v5 score-and-venue adjusted on-ice numbers (again, per NaturalStatTrick), some numbers of interest are as follows:
So while they had positive corsi and expected goals percentages, they were actually slated to score two less goals than they actually did. That’s a sign that their offence was even lower event than they actually managed.
Power play offence
On the power play, the Flames have scored 21 goals: 19 of which were on 5v4 power plays, one came at 5v3, and one at 4v3. The Flames’ first unit forwards have been getting the bulk of the power play goals. Gaudreau led the Flames with six goals, while Elias Lindholm has been the sole Flame to score on the two-man advantage.
While Tkachuk and Monahan have been struggling at even strength, they’ve both fared a bit better on the power play. Tkachuk has scored three times on the man advantage, while Monahan’s actually scored more on the power play than he has at even-strength with four goals.
On the second unit, Dillon Dube has gotten some success by scoring twice, while Milan Lucic has scored once. Among the defencemen the Flames deployed on the power play, Mark Giordano and Rasmus Andersson each have a goal.
Within the subset of having an extra skater, the Flames have yet to score at 6v5. Pulling the goalie has led to zero goals for the Flames so far, which has definitely contributed to their total regulation losses.
Just looking at 5v4 stats (i.e. not including 5v3 or 6v5), the Flames have the following results:
That 80.0 CF% is ranked 31st in the league. In other words, the Flames are giving up more shorthanded opportunities than any other team. Consequently, due to the nature of giving up more chances, their xGF% is ranked 28th. Looking at their xGF, they’ve outpaced their expected goals by a little over four goals, and their xGF is ranked 11th while their GF is ranked ninth.
Despite how bad their power play has been, it’s ranked 15th in the league, clicking at 20.8% after 28 games. Their boosted numbers in both GF and xGF come from the fact that they’re fourth in power play opportunities per game with 3.61. For context, the Colorado Avalanche have the most at 3.84, while the Anaheim Ducks have the least at 2.34.
The Flames have just one shorthanded goal so far this year, scored by Mangiapane. It came on the road in Calgary’s 6-3 win over the Ottawa Senators. This is well below their pace of six goals over seventy games from last year when Mikael Backlund led the way with three.
Similarly to having an extra attacker with an empty net, in the subset of shorthanded hockey contains 5v6 play. When the Flames were given opportunities to seal victories with empty net goals, they’ve only converted twice. The inability to score on the empty net has simply cost the Flames wins.
Most notably, towards the end of February, the Flames and Maple Leafs were deadlocked in a goaltending battle between David Rittich and Michael Hutchinson. Late in the game, the Flames finally scored the game’s first goal but were not able to score on the Leafs’ empty net. This resulted in the Leafs tying it up and stealing the victory in overtime.
One last look at the numbers, this time at just 4v5 stats (similar to the above, this does not include 3v5 or 5v6):
Their shorthanded CF% puts them 22nd in the league, while their xGF% actually puts them 12th. At the rate they’ve played on the penalty kill, they have been slotted for possibly one extra goal based on xGF as their 1.8 xGF ranks them 11th. That suggests that their penalty kill is getting some good looks, but has not been seen the good luck needed to convert.
The Flames need more offence
The North Division has paced the league with the highest offence. Currently, four of the top ten teams in goals for per game are Canadian. This includes the Oilers, Leafs, Jets, and Canadiens. The first three are actually ranked four through six, respectively.
When two thirds of the Flames’ opponents boast that much scoring power, the Flames can’t rely on just good defence despite what we know about Sutter’s coaching. It’s true, a good defence will bring back great returns in the long run. However, for the immediate future and the rest of the season, as much as the Flames will work on improving their defensive game, they’re going to need to find the goals.