The Calgary Flames lost out on the Jack Eichel sweepstakes, but they are proving early on this season that they don’t need Eichel to be a good team. Since their opening night loss to the Edmonton Oilers, the Flames have put together a tidy nine-game point streak, with a six-game winning streak embedded in the middle.
It’s a very impressive feat that has the Flames sitting in fifth place overall in the NHL, third in the Western Conference, and second in the Pacific Division. It’s entirely too early to even be thinking about this, but if the playoffs started today, the Flames would open the postseason with home ice advantage over the San Jose Sharks.
What’s made this early season hot streak even more impressive is how exciting the games have been. They aren’t grinding out 2–1 games like many expected. Instead, they’re putting up lots of goals, playing tight defense, and generally dominating all night long. They do lack finishing talent and with more of that on the roster their goal totals would be through the roof, but they’re still sporting at +12 goal differential and averaging 3.4 goals per game.
Darryl Sutter‘s Flames are playing extremely well, dominating opponents, and could be the next analytical darling team in the NHL. Their underlying numbers through the first 10 games of the season are sparkling and if they can keep this up, they’ll easily coast into the playoffs. Let’s break it down.
The statistics in this section are all taken from NaturalStatTrick and are 5v5 score-and-venue-adjusted totals. This particular stat makes the most sense when considering how teams drive play due to it taking into account score effects and adjusting for home ice advantage.
At 5v5, the Flames are absolutely dominating their opponents. There is a perception that the Flames take a lot of point shots and don’t get into the gritty areas of the ice to create enough scoring chances, but that really isn’t true.
They are leading the league in Corsi for percentage at just around 57%, and are also leading the NHL is scoring chance percentage with a whopping 60% rate. That number is simply sensational, and it definitely provides some confidence in the Flames’ ability to keep scoring lots of goals.
Going even deeper, the Flames are ninth in the NHL in high-danger chance percentage, not as good as the previous two statistics but still within the top-10 of the league. This is how you play and win at the NHL level, and it’s this type of play that essentially guarantees a team will win more games than they will lose.
Expected goals is another level of analysis when it comes to underlying numbers since it takes into account many factors that affect each shot taken. This is a more elegant way to assess which team is truly driving play. All statistics in this section are also 5v5 score-and-venue-adjusted values.
The Flames, once again, come out looking like a top-tier team. Through 10 games, the Flames have generated the fourth most expected goals in the NHL at 5v5 when adjusting for score and venue. They may not have the best finishing talent in the NHL, but they’re creating so much that it just hasn’t mattered so far this season.
On the other side of the ledger, the Flames have allowed the 11th least expected goals in the league, which is a hallmark of Sutter coached teams. They are excellent and minimizing scoring chances from their opponents, and it’s led to a very impressive expected goals percentage of just around 55%. That’s good for fifth in the NHL.
On the power play, the Flames have done a good job so far this season, but haven’t clicked as much as they would have liked.
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Still, the Flames are 11th in expected goals generated, 13th in Corsi for, 15th in scoring chances, and 10th in high danger chances league-wide. They’re a middle of the road team at worst, but are still generating high danger chances and expected goals right around 10th in the NHL.
There is room for improvement, but the power play is not a key area of weakness for this team. If they can start converting on more man advantages, the Flames could be deadly.
On the other side of special teams, the Flames have excelled at killing penalties.
The Flames have only allowed 2.56 expected goals on the penalty kill, an absolutely incredible mark. Of course, goals go in at a higher rate on special teams, and they’ve allowed four actual goals on the PK. Still, this is a fantastic number through 10 games of the season.
They’ve done a fantastic job taking away chances from their opponents, allowing the fourth fewest Corsi chances, second fewest scoring chances, and the fewest high danger chances in the NHL. The Flames have only allowed two high danger chances on the penalty kill this season.
Can Calgary keep this up?
Darryl Sutter hockey isn’t an easy system to play for 82 straight games, but the Flames have really not faltered at all this season after opening night. They’re managing the game well, and try to use a high pace first period to jump out into an early lead. When that doesn’t work, they have been very good at keeping games tight and capitalizing on their chances on the rush and cycle.
There isn’t anything so far that suggests the Flames won’t be able to keep this up, but we’ll see how they react to their first losing streak of the season. That will be the most telling thing with this team: can they stick to the program and continue playing the Sutter system even through losses, or will they start to cheat and have individuals try to do too much?
That is the key for the Flames this season, but right now they’re sitting pretty.