Over their 10-game win streak, the Calgary Flames have allowed more than two goals in a game just once—their 4–3 victory over the Dallas Stars in which they actually came back in the third period for the first time in season.
Every other victory has seen their opponents score two goals or fewer. This has been instrumental in them sweeping their seven-game home stand (10 goals allowed) and has led to them pacing themselves for an end-of-season award: The William M. Jennings Trophy.
The William M. Jennings Trophy
This award is given out during the NHL Awards and is awarded to the goalie(s) “having played a minimum of 25 games for the team with the fewest goals scored against it” during the regular season. In 2020–21, it was shared between Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner with the Vegas Golden Knights; the year before that Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak with the Boston Bruins; Lehner previously won it in 2018–19 as well although it was with Thomas Greiss and the New York Islanders.
2021–22 contenders for the award
This season, it’s been a two-horse race between the Calgary Flames and Carolina Hurricanes. The two teams have been neck and neck in allowing the least amount of goals, but with their recent home stand, the Flames have started to create some separation. With up to all games finishing on February 21 considered, the Hurricanes have allowed 121 goals over 50 games, while the Flames have ceded 114 goals over 49 games.
Of course, it’s not possible for this race to be called at this point in the season with so many games left to play as it can all change in an instant. However, it can’t be denied that Calgary’s defensive system is truly hard to exploit and teams are struggling to find offence when playing against the Flames.
Betting on Calgary’s defence and goaltending
Calgary’s allowing 2.33 goals per game to Carolina’s 2.42—not a trivial difference at all. In the calendar year of 2022, the Flames have allowed more than two goals in a game just six times. The first was in all three games of their three-game losing skid in the east coast against the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Hurricanes. Then once to the Edmonton Oilers in the January 22 rendition of the Battle of Alberta, once to the St. Louis Blues, and finally once as aforementioned to the Stars.
That leaves 14 other games with Calgary’s opponents scoring two goals (five times), one goal (six times), or zero goals (three times). Simply put, their defence is completely stifling their opponents. Back when the winning streak was at eight games, we assessed the Flames’ on-ice prowess and noted only their game versus the Toronto Maple Leafs (coming off a back-to-back game against the Golden Knights) was really the only game that could be considered a poor defensive showing.
Include the two most recent games against the Seattle Kraken and Winnipeg Jets, and it’s more data in favour of Calgary’s on-ice defence. The Flames held the Kraken to 1.07 expected goals and Jets to 1.68, all at 5v5, score-and-venue adjusted courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com.
Upcoming tests for the Flames
Despite their pace, there’s still a lot of hockey left to play. Using Tankathon.com’s strength of schedule calculator, the Flames have the 23rd hardest—or rather 10th easiest—schedule remaining (whereas Carolina has the 16th hardest/17th easiest).
Again from Tankathon, Calgary’s toughest opponents remaining on their schedule include the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild each with three games to play versus the Flames. These two teams rank second and third for goals for per game right now, only behind the Panthers.
It also includes the Lightning, Blues, Golden Knights, and Washington Capitals—each team with one game left versus Calgary. This is contrasted with the Hurricane’s toughest opponents of the Avalanche, Lightning, and New York Rangers with two games each; three games against the New York Rangers, and one game each against the Leafs and Wild.
Dark horses for the Jennings
While all of the discussion has been focused on the Flames and Hurricanes, the breakdown for other teams that could possibly draw themselves closer into the race include the following teams. Note that the Flames and Hurricanes are included in the table for reference.
|Team||Goals Against||Games Played||GA/GP|
These teams are already longshots to pull themselves into the race, but anything could happen and they shouldn’t be discounted until the season progresses into its fourth quarter.
An individual win for a team effort
While the Flames’ offence this season was a surprise, their defensive prowess under head coach Darryl Sutter was closer to an expectation—and they’re proving exactly that. For them to be where they are at with overall goals against, it’s taken the whole team to buy into Sutter’s system and it’s paying off.
As for goaltending, Jacob Markstrom has been stellar. His league-leading eight shutouts deserve some recognition—if not outright for the Vezina, then the Jennings should be in his personal sights at the very least.
Unfortunately for Daniel Vladar, it doesn’t appear to be in the books that he’d win the Jennings in his first season with the Flames. He’s played in just 11 games this season (10 starts to one relief appearance), well short of the 25 minimum game requirement.
That said, he deserves credit for being a formidable backup goaltender that’s definitely contributed to the Flames’ standings in the goals against category with two shutouts of his own. Vladar’s goals against average of 2.57 beats every other team in the league except the Hurricanes and Rangers.
If the Flames do end up winning, it’s clear that it’s a trophy that’s been earned thanks to a complete team effort.
Keeping at it
It might be reasonable to suggest that the William M. Jennings Trophy is Calgary’s award to lose at this point. Aside from the Hurricanes, no other team is actually that close to challenging. As long as the Flames can close out the season in the same style of play they have already shown the rest of the league that they’re capable of playing, the Jennings Trophy should be theirs.
As mentioned earlier, the biggest tests will come in upcoming games against the Avalanche and Wild. Survive those games and it should be smooth sailing.
With all else equal, the Flames should be expecting to collect some hardware by season’s end.
Photo by Terence Leung/2022 NHLI