The Calgary Flames finished their first 20 games of the 2021–22 season atop the Western Conference. Sitting at a 12–3–5 record, their 29 points games locks them in at no worse than being tied for fourth in the league with the Washington Capitals—who have an identical record—after 20 games. Only the Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes are ahead, and the Edmonton Oilers have one game to play before they hit their 20-game mark where they could jump the Flames with a win.
The Flames are putting together a world-class on-ice product right now. They are hard to play against and are using more than just defence, but also checking to string together W’s, finding themselves in the win column way more often than not.
Early musings of Calgary’s roster led by Darryl Sutter was that it’d be defensively stingy and offensively weak—and former is decidedly true as they’ve given up just 38 goals in 20 games for a league-best 1.9 goals against per game (the Hurricanes have given up less goals at 36, but they’ve only played 18 games).
The latter, however, could not be more wrong. The Flames are showing that they are able to score, and have been on the right side of blowout victories numerous times already over the first quarter of the season.
To take a look at how they’ve gotten their offence, here are the Flames’ goals by game state and scorer data visualisation for the first 20 games of their 2021–22 campaign.
Visualising Flames goals by game state and scorer
The data visualisation is an alluvial diagram that first breaks down goals based on the game state, which accounts for the scoring team’s skaters on the ice compared to their opponent, and shows who scored the goals as well. This provides a visual that gives a quick and easy way to reference at which states a team has managed to score, and who has done most of the scoring.
Colours are used to show how many skaters a team has relative to their opponent, with dark blue showing a two-man advantage, light blue showing a man-advantage. Green represents even strength, and orange and red are for being shorthanded by one skater and two skaters, respectively.
Goals by game state then flow rightwards to the scorer, which then shows how many goals each player has scored, and at which game states. Essentially, each player has their own stacked bar chart to breakdown their goals by game state.
The Flames have scored a total of 68 times over 20 games, putting them fourth in the league behind the Oilers’ 74, Panthers’ 73, and Capitals’ 70 goals. Calgary’s combination of 68 goals for and 38 goals against also gives them the best goal differential in the league at +30 (the Panthers are second at +25).
Let’s see how all 68 of Calgary’s goals have been scored using the alluvial diagram data visualisation. The visualisation was made using R with the “tidyverse” and “ggalluvial” packages, and the data is from MoneyPuck.com.
Observations from the data visualisation
From the visualisation, observations can be made based on either the game state to assess the team, by scorer to assess each player, or with a combination of both. Let’s see how each side of the visualisation breaks down.
Flames goals by game state
First, let’s look at the game states. The Flames have scored 43 goals at 5v5, and one goal each at 4v4 and 3v3 to total 45 even strength goals. On the power play, 14 goals came at 5v4 while one goal came at 5v3. Lastly, being shorthanded, the Flames have scored two 4v5 goals, while they’ve scored six times on an empty net.
Of course, goals should come the most frequently at 5v5 and 5v4, given that those are the two most common scoring states of the game. Calgary’s 43 5v5 goals are fourth in the league, while their 14 5v4 power play goals also have them tied for fourth.
Note: The NHL.com stats page currently lists the Flames as scoring 13 5v4 goals and one 6v4 goal. Tracking down the discrepancy in the data, it leads to Game 8 of the season where the Flames faced off against the Philadelphia Flyers. NHL.com lists Calgary’s four goals at the following states: One 6v4, one 5v4, one 5v5, and one 5v6.
The 5v5 and 5v6 goals were scored towards the end of the game with Mikael Backlund scoring the empty net and Johnny Gaudreau scoring at 5v5 shortly after. However, Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk scored the Flames’ first two goals, both of which came on 5v4 power plays.
There’s a rogue goal that’s marked as 6v4, which takes one goal away from the Flames’ 5v4 power play total. Going into the NHL game sheet itself, there is no error and the Flames are listed as scoring two 5v4 goals.
So all this is just to say that there’s an error in the NHL.com data that is present at the time of posting this article.
Back to the goals by game states and how the Flames rank in the league, the Flames have scored six times on an empty net, which has them in a three-way tie for second in the league (only the Panthers have more with seven). Calgary’s two 4v5 shorthanded goals has them in a six-way tie for fifth in the league (the Colorado Avalanche lead with four).
Calgary’s single goals at 5v3 and 4v4 aren’t going to turn heads, as 11 other teams have one goal at 5v3. Only the Oilers and Vancouver Canucks have more at three and two 5v3 goals, respectively. At 4v4, eight teams have scored at least two 4v4 goals, with the New York Rangers and San Jose Sharks leading with three apiece.
However, the area of concern here for Calgary is their 3v3 scoring. Losing five times in overtime and only winning once, the Flames haven’t been on the right side of overtime outcomes. This is something the Flames will want to fix in their play as racking up loser points isn’t preferred when they should be flat-out winning some of these extra time games based on their play.
Flames goals by scorer
Among their scorers, Andrew Mangiapane having a breakout year is no surprise. The forward has steadily gotten better with each passing year and is currently one of the best 5v5 scorers in the NHL right now. He leads the Flames with 15 goals on the season already—10 of which come at 5v5, but he has scored four power play goals and is also responsible for one of the Flames’ shorthanded goals.
Calgary’s first line of Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, and Tkachuk are all close when it comes to scorer, albeit well behind Mangiapane’s scoring pace. The trio has tallied 26 goals altogether, and have near-equal goal totals. Gaudreau has been most effective at 5v5, Tkachuk on the power play, and Lindholm is a jack of all trades as usual, scoring at all situations including the Flames’ only 3v3 goal.
The Flames’ top-four scorers combine for more than half of the team’s goals right now, tallying 41 goals among them. The rest of the Flames have 27. The bottom half of Calgary’s scoring is led by Milan Lucic, who has five goals all scored at 5v5. Backlund follows with four goals (three at 5v5, one at 5v6), while Blake Coleman and Oliver Kylington each have three 5v5 goals.
Five Flames have two goals each, which includes Dillon Dube and Brad Richardson scoring both of theirs at 5v5, Nikita Zadorov who has one 5v5 and one 5v4 goal, and Trevor Lewis who has managed to score both of his goals on empty nets to help seal victories for the Flames.
The worrisome player remaining is Monahan. He has just two goals so far and both have come on 5v4 power plays. It’s not the scoring pace the forward has been known to be consistently capable of. While being a power play contributor is still definitely something he provides a lot of value in, other aspects of his play have evaporated. The Flames need more out of their former number one centre and for a player like Monahan, it really does start and end with scoring more goals.
Lastly, a duo of defencemen each have a goal—Chris Tanev and Noah Hanifin. Interestingly, Rasmus Andersson has yet to find the back of the net, but he’s already put up 11 assists to significantly rebound from his past season.
Goals win games
In total, the Flames have had 15 unique goal scorers putting up 68 goals as a team. Obviously their goals scored will go up, but so too will their unique goal scorers. There are a few players due for a goal, primarily Andersson, but also Tyler Pitlick and Juuso Valimaki among others—not to mention potential call ups from Stockton slotting into the lineup.
Only time will tell if the Flames will have a better or worse second quarter. They’ll have to outdo a pretty high bar set by themselves, but with how they’ve dominated on the ice, it is not far-fetched to say that they’ll continue to have a solid season.