Stability is not a word that can be used to accurately describe the Calgary Flames’ 2021 season. With three head coaches behind the bench this season, the voice and system deployed by the team changed several times, and the Flames struggled to perform consistently well in all of them.
However, down the stretch, they did settle into Darryl Sutter‘s brand of hockey, and finally experienced positive results. It was too little too late for the Flames to earn a playoff spot, but the late season success allowed the team to end the season on an optimistic note.
Sutter will likely be the head coach for the next couple seasons, so we evaluated his 30 games with the Flames in 2021 and prorated it over a full 82 game season. This is how the team would do.
Prorating the team’s record doesn’t actually provide much optimism. Sutter finished his 2021 season with a .500 record, 15-15-0. Over 82 games, that’s 82 points, and wouldn’t get the Flames into the postseason.
Against each opponent the Flames faced, this is how their record was the final 30 games of the season:
|Toronto Maple Leafs||2-3-0|
The Flames faced serious issues against the Senators and Jets, but played the rest of the division fairly well. Against the Sentators and Jets the Flames were 2-6-0, and against the rest of the division the Flames were 13-9-0. An interesting split, but at the end of the day, the Flames were a .500 team under Sutter.
Of course, with the implementation of a new system, the Flames are no doubt hoping they can earn more wins next season.
Despite being known as a defensively minded coach, the Flames’ offense under Sutter was actually fairly good. When broken down by rate, the Flames had one of the better offenses leaguewide.
Ranked around 10th in most categories, the Flames generated a good number of shots, scoring chances, expected goals, and actual goals. The one area of concern is their generation of high danger chances. At just 9.9 HDCF/60, the Flames ranked 21st in the league in this category at 5v5. That’s not good enough, and getting a high volume of high danger chances generally leads to a higher rate of goals over a longer period of time.
This is backed up by looking at the team’s shooting percentage at 5v5 under Sutter. At 9.08%, this ranked seventh in the entire league. With regression in this category, the Flames will definitely struggle to score goals at 5v5 unless they increase their volume of high danger chances generated.
Prorating this over 82 games, the Flames would have scored 181 5v5 goals. That total would have been 10th in the league in 2018-19, the last full 82 game season.
On defense, Sutter lived up to the hype. Under his tutelage, the Flames allowed an incredibly low number of chances against from all areas of the ice.
Ranked in ascending order this time, the Flames were a top five team basically across the board in terms of allowing chances against. They were solid in limiting their opponents’ shots from all areas, but especially from high danger areas where they gave up an average of just 7.67 high danger chances against per game at 5v5. Their expected goals against per 60 minutes was well below 2.00, and when coupled with an xGF/60 of 2.22, this is a great share of expected goals for the team.
The only area of concern here was the actual goals allowed. Whether this had to do with goaltending, poor defense, or bad luck, the Flames allowed significantly more goals than expected under Sutter this past season. Under Sutter, the team’s 5v5 save percentage was just .908, good for 31st in the league. With a healthy Jacob Markstrom, this should improve next season.
The power play under Sutter was a story of high shot volume but poor execution.
Using rates again here to even things out across the board, the Flames were top 10 in most generation categories, but all the way down at 31st for actual goals per 60 minutes of power play time. They had the right ideas, but couldn’t score. Over a longer period of time, you’d expect this to regress back to the mean, which would translate to a nice uptick in goals scored.
With a rate of around seven goals per 60 powerplay minutes, this works out to about one expected powerplay goal scored in 4.25 powerplays. The Flames would score on every fifth powerplay chance on average which is basically a 20% success rate. This would put the Flames in the top half of the league. Not bad.
The other side of special teams was the opposite, unfortunately. The Flames posted poor numbers on the PK under Sutter, and this is clearly an area of improvement for the team.
Among teams and split by coaches, the Flames are consistently among the worst in the NHL at allowing quality chances on the penalty kill. This speaks to a low success rate of blocking zone entries and allowing opponent power plays to set up too often. There are a few interesting things to note here, though.
In terms of the volume of shots allowed on the penalty kill, the Flames actually did quite well under Sutter. They allowed a low volume of shots, but the unfortunate part was that the chances they did allow were of very high quality. Not the split you want to see.
A consistent theme again here is execution. The Flames allowed the eighth least expected goals against on the penalty kill, but were 19th in terms of actual goals allowed. They gave up significantly more than they should have.
Extrapolating the same way we did for the power play, the Flames would be expected to allow a power play goal against on 5.18 shorthanded scenarios. This works out to them allowing a goal on every sixth penalty kill, and an 83% success rate. That would be top 10 in the league, but again execution is an issue. Expected goals and actual goals are not the same thing.
Next season outlook
The Flames look to be in much better shape under Sutter. They own a very solid share of expected goals and scoring chances, both sides of special teams are expected to be in the top 10 of the league, and in general it’s expected they’ll experience some general positive regression.
If the past 30 games of Flames hockey are an indication of things to come, the Flames will definitely be a playoff team next season. Execution remains the biggest hurdle to overcome.