The Calgary Flames have started the 2021–22 season on fire. While most pundits and fans expected very little from this team, Darryl Sutter had different ideas, and is coaching the Flames into one of the very best teams in the NHL.
With a league-leading +30 goal differential, the 10th most goals scored at 81, and the fewest goals allowed at 51, the Flames are simultaneously generating scoring chances and suppressing opponent scoring chances at extremely high rates.
However, there are some very clear splits between how the team has performed in each period, and there are areas of improvement to work on as the season progresses.
The opening period has been the Flames’ best this season.
They’ve scored 28 goals in the first period, 35% of their total goals, and allowed just 12, 24% of their total goals allowed. League-wide, that’s good for the most goals scored in first periods and the fourth fewest allowed. In total, 30% of the total goals scored and allowed by the Flames have occurred in the first period.
This period has been a clear area of strength for the team. They’ve been able to score the first goal of the game in 18/25 games this season and have entered the first intermission leading the game 15 times. They’ve ended up winning 12 of those games as well.
Starting games with gusto have been a problem for the Flames in recent years, but that has completely turned around this season. They are the best first period team in the league and use their quick starts very effectively.
The second period has gone a little differently.
The Flames have scored 22 goals, 27% of their total and 23rd most league-wide in the second period. However, they’ve also allowed only 14 goals—the fewest in the NHL. Essentially, the second period has been low scoring for both the Flames and their opponents so far this season, but the Flames are still coming out on top with a +8 goal differential.
In total, 27% of the total goals for and allowed have occurred in the second period this season. That’s 3% less than in the first.
One reason for this trend could be the long change. With the long change that is only present in regulation in the second period, it can be difficult for teams to create the same type of offence. Being on the road for the vast majority of the season (16/25 games or 64%) makes this even tougher.
Another reason could be the fact that the Flames are so good in the first period. Jumping out in front of most of their hockey games this season has allowed them to play a tighter defensive game in the second period, not needing to push the pace as much to tie things up. If things start to slip in the first period, there will likely be more action in the second period, both for and against.
The third period has been the most eventful for the Flames so far this season.
They’ve scored the 11th most goals in the NHL with 28 and allowed the sixth fewest goals with 20. This accounts for 35% of their goals scored and 39% of their goals allowed. In total, 36% of the total goals scored and allowed have occurred in the third period.
This is a trend that Sutter most likely wants to curb. The Flames are still among the league leaders in both goals scored and goals allowed in the third period, but they allow significantly more goals in the third than in any other period. As the team that has led for the second most amount of time this season, it’s natural to see your opponents push back hard in the third period to try and even things up.
That being said, this is a clear area of improvement for the Flames. They can definitely be better both on offence and defence in the third period, instead of “hanging on” as we’ve seen them do several times so far, most recently in their tight 3–2 win against the Los Angeles Kings.
With a top-11 finish in both goals categories in the third period though, things could definitely be a lot worse for the Flames. There are improvements to be made, but they’ve been good in all three regulation periods this season.
This is where things have really not gone Calgary’s way this season.
For some reason, the Flames haven’t been able to recreate their overtime magic from previous seasons. Maybe it’s the departure of Mark Giordano, or it’s simply regression to the mean, but overtime is generally viewed as a coin flip and the Flames have come up short in five overtimes this season already.
At just one overtime goal scored, the Flames rank 25th in the NHL in this category. With five goals allowed, they rank dead last. Overtime has just not been fun for the Flames this season.
Teams seem to trade chances in the extra frame and it truly is a coin flip in most cases. With better puck management and positional awareness especially from the defencemen, the Flames ‘ luck in overtime will almost surely change as the season goes on. For now, let’s just be thankful they’re closing out most of their games in regulation.
A consistent effort
The Flames’ commitment to limiting goals against has been a consistent effort in all three period this season. Because they’ve managed to grab the lead in most of their games, it has allowed them to tighten things up and play a very strong checking style of game. Time will tell if this strategy will work if they don’t score first, but right now it’s working extremely well.