The 2021–22 season is young, but that makes it a prime opportunity to compare teams across the league to find interesting outcomes based on team performances. The Calgary Flames are currently the only team left in the NHL that has yet to cede a high-danger corsi against while on the penalty kill. So far, their 4v5 on-ice product has a lot of good outcomes so far that they can build on for the rest of the season.
At a team level, Calgary’s penalty kill has been off to a fairly good start in terms of an on-ice product. Numbers will inevitably trend to more normal levels across the league, but Calgary’s showing an early look on how their penalty kill can be highly effective. If their penalty kill continues the way it is going, they have a strong chance of having one of the best in the league for a few different reasons.
The Calgary Flames’ penalty kill so far
Over the three games the Flames have played, they have the following stat line on the 4v5 penalty kill (data from NaturalStatTrick.com). In the table, it shows the Flames’ overall time on the penalty kill, their goals for and against, and their corsi for and against (both overall and high-danger attempts are listed), and their expected goals.
So in about 13:29 of penalty killing being down a player, the Flames have ceded three goals against while not yet scoring shorthanded. Those three goals against puts them right in the middle of the pack. The San Jose Sharks and Buffalo Sabres still boast perfect overall penalty kills, while the Montreal Canadiens have already let in eight power play goals for a worst-in-league goals against count. In terms of goals for, only five teams have shorthanded goals so far, so it’s not exactly a shock for any team— the Flames included—to have zero in that column this early in the season.
Let’s dig a little deeper into what has gone well for the Flames’ penalty kill after three games.
Killing penalties with corsi
Taking a look at percentages, the Flames have a league-best 33.3 CF% at 4v5. Their expected goals mark of 41.5 xGF% is also the best in the league. And as mentioned, they remain the only team with 100.0 HDCF% (the Sharks are second with 66.7%). This in its own right is highly impressive as one would expect that over three games, one of their opponents would surely muster a high-danger corsi during any of their power plays, but this has yet to be the case for Calgary.
Quite contrarily, they’ve instead had three high-danger corsi for. The only team with more are the Detroit Red Wings with four, but they did so over 27:14 of 4v5 play—more than double the time the Flames have spent shorthanded. Two of the high-danger corsi belongs to Andrew Mangiapane while the other was courtesy of Dillon Dube. Both of them typically play on the second penalty kill unit as Elias Lindholm and Mikael Backlund eat up more minutes at 4v5, but Mangiapane and Dube are making a strong case of becoming an excellent duo to have out at the same time to create offence out of shorthanded situations.
The Flames have racked up 0.45 xGF so far, which isn’t far from their xGA of 0.64. It goes without saying that their 4v5 xGF% of 41.5% is unsustainable, but it is truly remarkable. The Sharks are a distant second with 31.7%—a difference of just under 10%.
If the Flames’ 41.5% mark doesn’t quite impress yet, consider this: The Flames have a better 4v5 xGF% than three teams have 5v5 xGF%. Read that again. The Flames are quite literally outperforming three separate teams’ even strength performances while they themselves are shorthanded. The Columbus Blue Jackets have 40.8%, the Anaheim Ducks 40.5%, and the Winnipeg Jets 40.2 xGF% at 5v5.
Across all three of 4v5 CF%, HDCF%, and xGF%, the Flames are currently the best in the league. However, it can be difficult to fairly assess and compare teams due to the early extremes that come out of limited total games played and even moreso when looking at total 4v5 TOI. Looking at rates instead of raw totals provide can provide more comparable metrics. Spoiler alert: the Flames still come out with incredible numbers.
Rating the Flames’ penalty kill
Looking at the same stats but as rates, here are the Flames’ penalty killing numbers.
On a per-game basis, the Flames are ranked 19th for 4v5 TOI with 4:30. They’re doing an alright job at staying out of the penalty box. The Minnesota Wild are the most penalised team from a rate perspective with 8:35 per game, while the Los Angeles Kings are the least with 2:22.
Again, when it comes to giving up power play goals, the Flames haven’t fared exactly well. They slot in with a GA/60 of 13.35, which is the fourth highest rate in the league. Of course, they did face off against the best power play in the league in the Oilers in their first game of the season—and Connor McDavid conveniently added a one-timer slapshot to his arsenal in the offseason—but nevertheless, the Flames stand to benefit the most on the penalty kill by getting better goaltending results.
Moving over to corsi rates, Calgary’s mark of 26.70 CF/60 is third in the league, behind only the Boston Bruins’ 33.75 and the Chicago Blackhawks’ 29.75. Here’s the kicker though. The Bruins’ CA/60 is 101.25, the Blackhawks similarly see a rate of 91.96 CF/60. The Flames’ rates are far, far lower. Calgary has a CA/60 of just 53.4, and kudos to you if you’re already thinking it: that’s the best CA/60 rate in the league. For context, the next best team in this regard are the Carolina Hurricanes with 62.12 CA/60, while the Kings have the worst rate with 143.33 CA/60.
Moving onto high-danger corsi, it’s obvious the Flames’ rate of 0.00 HDCA/60 is tops in the league and will remain so until they give up their first HDCA or longer. Just as impressively, their 13.35 HDCF/60 is also best-in-league. The Sharks trail them with 9.01, while 14 other teams have yet to get a single HDCF at 4v5 to start their seasons.
In terms of expected goals for, the league is sandwiched in a range of teams with 0.00 xGF/60 and 2.02 xGF/60. Well, if you look at the table, you’ll see that the Flames are exactly the team with 2.02. Their penalty kill is playing at a rate of scoring two full goals over the course of a 60-minute game! In second, the Kings follow with 1.93 xGF/60 while the Toronto Maple Leafs are at the bottom, being the team with 0.00 xGF/60 at 4v5.
Looking at expected goals against—stop me if you’re getting tired of hearing this—the Flames are once again currently the best in the league. Their rate of 2.84 xGA/60 is unbeaten by any other team. The Sharks are second with a slightly distant 3.13 xGA/60 rate, while the Kings’ penalty kill is suffering with a league worst 11.23 xGA/60.
So long story short, when comparing rates the Flames have had a very successful string of three games where their penalty kill has been otherworldly and completely uncontested. Of course, the three actual goals against sour the rest of the metrics, but that’s not to take away from the other results the Flames’ penalty kill has seen early into 2021–22.
Making a killing
What does assessing the Flames’ penalty kill so soon really do? First, it’s nice to have a small victory when comparing their metrics against other teams. Zero high-danger corsi against over nearly 15 minutes of penalty killing? That’s perfect watercooler talk or a great factoid to fill out the silence to start virtual meetings.
As the season progresses, things will change. Teams will fluctuate—some will get hot, some will mellow out. With the Flames currently atop the league in several penalty kill metrics, they only direction they can go is down. So don’t expect their high metrics to be the case for the whole season unless their penalty kill builds an uncatchable lead.
What’s more important at this point is taking a look at the Flames’ overall penalty killing system and learning from what they’ve done over the first three games. From there, they can build on their successes over the next 79 contests. With Ryan Huska‘s body of work coaching the Flames’ penalty kill, it looks like the Flames are poised to be consistently effective when down a skater. If the Flames can get better shorthanded goaltending and trend towards league average or better, then their penalty kill with be a force to reckon with.
Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images