Visualising the 2021–22 Calgary Flames’ expected goals versus goals so far

The Calgary Flames have had scoring depth issues all season long. Currently propped by four skaters—Andrew Mangiapane, Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau, and Elias Lindholm—this team has otherwise had a immense lack of finishing ability this year. What can we tell about Calgary’s roster by looking at expected goals versus goals, as well as shot attempt rates? Let’s visualise it all.

Calgary Flames expected goals versus goals visualisation

To compare expected goals to goals, dumbbell charts for forwards and defencemen were created. The plot is called a dumbbell plot because the two data points, expected goals (xG) and actual goals, are connected with a line, thus resembling a dumbbell. However, there is added context in the dumbbell as I used a square marker to indicate a player’s xG is, and an arrowhead to show their actual goals. The direction of the arrow then shows if a player is scoring more or less than expected.

Further, colour applied to each dumbbell to provide context for a player’s willingness to shoot the puck, i.e. their individual corsi. Since players have varying ice time, the corsi are compared with rates per 60 minutes (iCF/60) of ice time.

The chart can then be used to look at how Flames skaters rank in terms of expected goals, and to see whether they are over or underperforming from that mark. All the data is at all-situations, courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com. The plots are made using R and Adobe Illustrator.

Expected goals for Flames forwards

The Flames have had 13 forwards skate at least 100 minutes at all situations, and so far after 35 games, they are led by Mangiapane’s 18 goals.

From the visualisation we can observe several key insights:

  • Tkachuk is taking the most shot attempts for the Flames, and he’s scoring nearly exactly as expected.
  • Mangiapane is overperforming by the largest margin. He has approximately seven goals above expected. His finishing ability this season is unreal and he’s getting rewarded for his play.
  • Gaudreau and Lindholm round out the top four goal scorers and both are also scoring more goals than expected.
  • Blake Coleman, Mikael Backlund, and Dillon Dube should all have more goals. With all three of their dumbbells pointing leftward, they’re scoring fewer goals than expected. Coleman in particular has a fairly high shot attempt ratee, but he’s not finding the back of the net.
  • Sean Monahan, just like Tkachuk is exactly where he’s expected. The difference is obviously Tkachuk has about 17 expected goals based on his play, while Monahan has just six.
  • Milan Lucic‘s scoring ability this season is definitely unexpected, to stay on the topic of expected goals. Only Mangiapane and Gaudreau have more goals above expected than him.
  • Trevor Lewis is a strange case. He has two empty net goals, and is still underperforming. He’d look much worse without those empty netters with one of the Flames’ worst goals above expected differentials, but is somewhat saved by them.
  • Brett Ritchie is second on the Flames in terms of iCF/60 with nearly 20, but clearly he has yet to even score, and his iCF has not led to many xG at all. Tyler Pitlick is the other forward without a goal yet.
  • Brad Richardson is the Flames’ worst player in terms of total xG.

Expected goals for Flames defencemen

Looking to Calgary’s defencemen, seven defenders have passed the 100 minute threshold. Yes, Juuso Valimaki has played over 100 minutes this season, even if that feels like eons ago. This plot is rather depressing. The scales are set to match the forwards to make comparing them easier, but not a single defence has over five goals nor five xG. A lot of empty space visually to match the lack of scoring dpeth from the blueline.

This is a huge contrast to last year where Mark Giordano at least brought offence onto the scoresheet. Maybe he’d be a welcome addition to the 2021–22 roster.

Similar to the above, here are some observations for each defenceman:

  • Noah Hanifin and Oliver Kylington are shooting the most frequently for the Flames, and also have the most xG to match. Hanifin has less goals than expected, whereas Kylington is right where he should be. This version of Kylington is the best version we’ve ever seen.
  • Rasmus Andersson finally got his first goal of the year after amassing just under three xG. Given that he’s leading Flames defencemen with 16 assists, it’s interesting to see this drastic a difference with his goal scoring.
  • Erik Gudbranson and Nikita Zadorov have nearly identical xG, but the former has zero goals while the latter has two. Not exactly game-breaking numbers, but it’s worth noting that Gudgranson has played in all 35 games so far while Zadorov has played in 28.
  • Chris Tanev is the Flames’ lowest volume shooter with just 5.5 iCF/60. Of course his value on the ice does not come from his own shots, but given that he’s also played all 35 games, it’s a bit astounding just how infrequently he actually opts to take a shot.
  • Valimaki’s not moving any needles and it’s unknown how long it’ll be until he’ll suit up for a Flames game again.

Flames need help on scoring

These plots make it abundantly clear. They have just three players with at least 10 xG (two are on the cusp of passing this threshold). That in itself is not exactly worrisome. It’s the lack of players who are outscoring their xG that’s concerning. With so many left-facing dumbbells, the charts are telling the story that the finishing ability of this iteration of the Flames is in dire need of an upgrade.

As they currently stand, this simply won’t get the job done on a nightly basis. With so many games rescheduled for February, getting pucks not just towards the net, but actually in it will be paramount for the Flames. That statement is as obvious as it gets, but it’s not every season where a problem is so clearly defined for a team across its entire roster. The time to fix this problem is now.

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