Calgary Flames

Evaluating how the Flames’ pace of play has changed under Darryl Sutter

When the Calgary Flames hired Darryl Sutter to replace Geoff Ward as head coach, the prevailing opinion was that we were in for low event hockey.

Truthfully, after the absolute sludge matches we were watching under Ward, I didn’t think it was really possible for the Flames to play any slower than they already were. Were they now going to spend more than 30 seconds holding the puck behind their own net waiting to set up a breakout? It just didn’t seem likely.

Still, that was the mindset of the majority of the media around the league, and even after a few games under Sutter, Sportsnet’s Elliottte Friedman reported that scoring chances were “way down” in Flames games under Sutter compared to Ward.

Now that we’re 11 games into Sutter’s tenure as head coach, let’s take a look and see if the expectation is true. Are the Flames playing lower event hockey? All stats below are taken at 5v5 from NaturalStatTrick.


Sutter did talk a lot about volume shooting being an important way to win games in the current NHL. This completely contradicts the idea that he likes low event hockey, but let’s let the numbers speak for themselves.

Geoff Ward55.0853.73108.8141.0441.8582.8929.4830.9860.46
Ryan Huska55.8849.31105.1942.0733.5375.630.927.6158.51
Darryl Sutter54.8146.16100.9741.8936.1778.0628.5325.6154.14

For the Flames themselves, the number of shot attempts taken has dropped marginally from just over 55 per hour under Ward to just under 55 per hour under Sutter. The more significant drop is actually in shot attempts allowed. The Flames allow just over 46 shot attempts per 60 under Sutter compared to a much higher clip of around 54 per 60 under Ward. This is a massive difference, and it speaks to how much tighter defensively the Flames are now, as well as how much more time they’re spending in the offensive zone.

Looking at unblocked shot attempts is the same story. The Flames are taking around the same number of unblocked shot attempts under Sutter compared to Ward, but are allowing fewer against. As expected, shots on goal follows the same pattern as well, around the same number taken but much fewer allowed..

So far, I wouldn’t say this supports the theory that Sutter likes low event hockey. In fact, it seems like Sutter has steered things in the right direction.

Scoring Chances

Breaking it down a little further to the quality of shots taken, this includes both scoring chances and high danger chances. This directly addresses Friedman’s points referenced earlier.

Geoff Ward26.2525.3351.5810.4910.4320.92
Ryan Huska28.2720.3848.6512.495.9218.41
Darryl Sutter24.0422.9146.958.098.4216.51

Friedman was right. On both sides of the ice, the Flames are seeing fewer scoring chances and fewer high danger chances per 60 minutes under Sutter compared to Ward, and the difference is significant.

The Flames are generating 2.21 fewer scoring chances and allowing 2.42 fewer scoring chances against under Sutter. For high danger chances, they’re generating 2.4 fewer per 60 and allowing 2.01 fewer per 60. This is a very significant dropoff when you consider teams sometimes only generate seven or eight high danger chances in an entire game. Of course, this dropoff means the overall scoring chances and high danger chances in Sutter-coached Flames games has dipped significantly as well.

Whether this is due to Sutter’s coaching style or a lack of execution by players within his system remains to be seen. If the last three games against Winnipeg are any indication, the Flames do seem to be evolving their game under Sutter and could see an uptick in these types of chances going forward.

Goal Scoring

Execution is something Sutter seems to bring up all the time, and he’s not wrong. The Flames have really struggled to score goals as of late, but let’s look deeper and see if there has really been a difference in this area under Sutter compared to his predecessors.

Coach GF/60 GA/60 GF+GA
xGF/60 xGA/60 xGF+xGA
Geoff Ward2.372.314.682.232.144.37
Ryan Huska1.973.295.262.791.734.52
Darryl Sutter2.022.814.832.001.893.89

Last night proved once again that the Flames have a goal scoring problem, especially at 5v5. Under Sutter, the Flames have seemingly forgotten how to score, and it has caused their playoff hopes to all but evaporate.

Under Sutter, the Flames are scoring a whopping 0.35 fewer goals but allowing 0.5 more goals against per 60 minutes. Their differential is shockingly worse under Sutter compared to Ward, and that’s largely why the team can’t seem to win games.

Looking deeper at expected goal counts, it’s a much less bleak picture. The Flames are creating fewer expected goals to the tune of -0.23 under Sutter compared to Ward, but their expected goals against has dropped even further by 0.25. Their expected goals differential is actually positive, which means the team should be generating more goals than their opponents on the average. The difference is they are converting almost 1:1 their expected goals into actual goals (2.00 xGF and 2.02 GF). Their opponents are converting at a much higher rate (1.89 xGA and 2.81 GA).

Not good.

Rushes and Rebounds

Another angle to look at is rush attempts and rebounds. Rush attempts, while they aren’t tracked with the accuracy and consistency we would like, generally speak to how good a team is at transition offense. Rebounds speak to their ability to get second opportunities, also an important trait of a good offensive team.

CoachRust Attempts /60Rebounds Created /60
Geoff Ward0.260.64
Ryan Huska0.260.66
Darryl Sutter0.270.47

For all the talk about being a faster team and playing a faster style, the Flames are not really generating more rush chances under Sutter compared to Ward. There has been a small uptick in rush attempts but nothing that would indicate a truly faster team that was trying to strike in transition.

Where there has been a stark difference is in the rate of rebounds created. Under Sutter, the Flames are creating almost 25% fewer rebound attempts per 60 minutes than under Ward. Their ability to bear down and create second and third opportunities has all but disappeared, and is likely a key reason why they have seen a dip in goal scoring.

High quantity, low quality

The numbers above show that the Flames aren’t necessarily playing low event hockey, but they are creating fewer scoring chances than before. Their shot attempts, unblocked shot attempts, and shots on goal have all remained fairly constant under Sutter, but their scoring chances, high danger chances, and goal scoring has taken a dive.

Hopefully the Flames can learn how to use Sutter’s system effectively, and start creating more high quality chances in the games ahead. If not, we could be in for a frustrating end to the season.

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