The Calgary Flames had their 2021–22 season paused after 28 games played. They were faring quite well in the standings with a record of 15–7–6, good for 36 points, and still third in the Pacific Division with games in hand over the Vegas Golden Knights and Anaheim Ducks—the two teams ahead of them.
The Flames have had a lot of time to reflect with the team being one of the most affected by COVID, and now as they prepare to resume play, they have to turn their attention to areas they can improve. While their on-ice product is as complete as it’s been in a while—mixing in solid even strength play, a decent enough power play, top-tier penalty killing, and astronomical goaltending—there’s still a glaring issue and it’s reflect right in the record: what’s going on in extra time?
The Flames have lost six times in overtime and only won once, and yet are a perfect 2–0 in the shootout. Something is amiss at 3v3 hockey for Calgary. This is something they’ll want to tighten up as in several of their overtime losses, they’ve been consistently dominant over their opponent—for some reason once overtime hits, the team just becomes depleted of luck and finishing ability.
Flames fading in overtime
The Flames have but one overtime win so far this season, which was a 4–3 victory over the Washington Capitals. Turning the attention to just the six overtime losses, the outcomes are listed below. Game charts and recaps are linked for each game; stats in the table are taken from NaturalStatTrick.com. Note that the 5v5 stats are not score-and-venue adjusted to have a better comparison to 3v3 stats.
|Game||5v5 CF%||5v5 xGF%||3v3 CF%||3v3 xGF%|
|CGY 2 – 3 ANA, 2021-10-18||60.82||66.62||14.29||14.38|
|CGY 2 – 3 NSH, 2021-11-02||61.18||71.87||66.67||52.25|
|CGY 3 – 4 DAL, 2021-11-04||57.33||55.82||66.67||68.59|
|TOR 2 – 1 CGY, 2021-11-12||55.84||66.25||44.44||22.95|
|PHI 2 – 1 CGY, 2021-11-16||44.19||42.90||33.33||0.00|
|CGY 1 – 2 CAR, 2021-12-09||55.22||52.24||16.67||1.40|
Note: The table doesn’t look into the 3v3 play in the overtime game that the Flames won, but they were outplayed by the Capitals in overtime. In the two shootout victories, Calgary actually had a dominant overtime period against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but were also outplayed by the Anaheim Ducks.
As for the six losses, let’s see where things went wrong. In five of six games, the Flames were the better team in regulation. Their only truly bad showing was their loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. It was an ineffective game from the Flames and they were luck to escape with a point.
However, in the other five games, Calgary was far, far better in regulation than their opponents. These games shouldn’t have even gone to overtime. Their closest game among their overtime losses was their most recent one against the Carolina Hurricanes, where the regulation game was quite close to being a 50/50 toss up in terms of expected goals… however that ignores the three goal line clears that the Hurricanes benefitted from.
In all other losses, the Flames were quite frankly dominant. Of course, hockey outcomes are as random as they can get in sports—any game is winnable (or losable) for any team on any night. But the outcomes here have started to show a trend: the Flames are consistently icing a better product than their opponent in regulation, but when overtime comes it’s a flipped script.
So far this season, the Flames have used 12 players in 3v3 overtime situations, ranging from Johnny Gaudreau with the most ice time at 12:25 to Sean Monahan with the least at 1:45. Just four players sit at 50% or higher 3v3 CF%: Dillon Dube (100.0%, 1:51 TOI), Mikael Backlund (64.71%, 8:55), Andrew Mangiapane (50.00%, 6:58), and Noah Hanifin (50.00%, 4:28).
Expected goals is bleaker, as only three players are above 50%: Backlund (54.29%), Dube (100.0%), and Monahan (52.07%). Neither Dube nor Monahan have played much 3v3 hockey and their stats are skewed with the limited time on ice—they’ll need more ice time to get a better sense of what they bring to 3v3 hockey. This leaves just Backlund as the only truly effective 3v3 player this season.
Cleaning up in overtime
This whole situation is problematic for the Flames as whatever system and dominance they have at 5v5 virtually evaporates when it comes to 3v3. Now, the caveat here is that no team can compare 5v5 results to 3v3 and get any consistently applicable tactics—the Flames are no exception. While their overtime results are less than desirable, the game of hockey is played primarily at 5v5 and that is where they have cleaned up their game nicely.
Knowing that doesn’t exactly get rid of the sour taste, as the Flames left six points on the table already, and most of games shouldn’t have gone to overtime to begin with. However the reality is that no matter how good a team is in regulation, overtime bouts are inevitable, and for the Flames to go from dominating regulation to consistently putting up less-than-stellar results in overtime is worrisome.
They have to figure out what they can do to put games away. With how the Flames have scored this season, they’ve been top-heavy with four scoring forwards. Throw in Backlund for his possession metrics and the Flames are in fact using their best five forwards for most overtime shifts. On defence, they’ve stuck with Andersson, Chris Tanev, Hanifin, and Oliver Kylington, all four of whom are the right call for overtime usage.
So that removes the question of whether their player usage is optimal, cause it likely already is. This then leads to a strategic issue. Whatever the Flames are doing on 3v3, they’re neither tallying up scoring chances nor limiting their opponents. Given the volatility of 3v3 with all the open ice, they have to be more tactful in their approach and have their three-man units be in better position to generate offence all while defending effectively.
Over to Calgary
The Flames objectively need to clean up their overtime play. In another world where they are able to close out games that they deserve to win, they might have remained first in the Pacific Division despite being out of action for so long. Thankfully, they are still in a great spot either way as they gear up for their first game back.
Let’s just hope the Flames are able to win the games in regulation more often than not so they can avoid overtime altogether. But let’s also hope they get their act together at 3v3 so that they stop giving away points in those situations too.
Photo by Juan Ocampo/NHLI via Getty Images