When we think about the best teams in the NHL, teams like the Colorado Avalanche, Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, and Florida Panthers come to mind. And rightfully so—they have been excellent all year. However, it’s about time we recognize that the Calgary Flames are not only competing with the above teams, but at this point, they are currently the better team.
The Flames have gone 4–2–0 as they played six games in nine nights, and despite coming off a loss against the Avalanche, the Flames are still playing the best hockey and have been for most of the season now. Let’s take a look and see how the numbers support this.
The Flames can not stop winning
It’s no secret that the Flames have been playing phenomenal hockey recently. What isn’t talked about enough—or at all—however, is that this strong play hasn’t been for a week or even two, it has been for almost two months. Since January 17, the Flames are 19–5–1 giving them 39 points. No team has more points than that in that span. The Avalanche come right behind the Flames with 38 points.
What really tells the story however is the points percentage. The Flames have a league leading 78% while the next highest is the Avalanche again this time with 76%. The Flames have been able to not only secure more points than any other team in the league, but they have also been able to do that while playing less games than some teams.
On top of winning more than any other team in the league, the Flames have the third highest goals per game played at 3.96. Only Toronto and Florida are ahead of them with 4.13 and 4.10 respectively. The Flames have recorded the best goals against per game played at 2.24, and the most shots per game played at 37.1.
Additionally, they have the second best shots against per games played at 27.9, just behind the Los Angeles Kings who only allow 27.3.
For special teams, the Flames have the sixth best power play percentage at 26.4%, and they have the third best penalty kill percentage at 86.3%.
If you are reading this and are thinking that the Flames are ranking pretty high in every category mentioned, it is because they are. In fact, if we take the average of where the Flames rank in every factor mentioned above, they come up top with an average rank of 2, higher than any other team in the league.
|Toronto Maple Leafs||8.2|
|New York Islanders||11.2|
|St. Louis Blues||11.3|
|Los Angeles Kings||13.1|
|New York Rangers||13.2|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||13.4|
|Columbus Blue Jackets||15.6|
|New Jersey Devils||16.0|
|Vegas Golden Knights||16.7|
|San Jose Sharks||18.3|
|Detroit Red Wings||22.6|
Not only are the Flames performing strong offensively through registering shots, goals, and a strong power play, but they team is also dominant on the defensive end through allowing one of the lowest shots against per game and being one of the best penalty kills in the league.
To put this into perspective, let’s compare where the Flames are to the top tier teams in the league. Carolina has the second highest rank, Florida has the third highest, Colorado is the fifth highest, and Tampa Bay comes in near the middle at the fifteenth highest. All these teams are looked at as the top tier teams in the league who are true cup contenders, however Calgary ranks higher than all of them. The numbers point to Calgary as the team that has been playing the best hockey.
Looking at Calgary’s advanced stats
Since January 17, the advanced stats really demonstrate how much better the Flames are than any other team in the NHL. At 5v5, The Flames rank first in CF%, SF%, GF%, xGF%, SCF%, and HDCF% (courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com). It’s really incredible. Take a look at their numbers below.
Again, if we take the average rank for every team for the above factors, the Flames come out on top, however this time, they really separate themselves from their competition too.
|Toronto Maple Leafs||5.8|
|Los Angeles Kings||7.7|
|New Jersey Devils||10.7|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||11.7|
|Vegas Golden Knights||11.8|
|New York Islanders||16.3|
|St Louis Blues||20.0|
|New York Rangers||23.5|
|Detroit Red Wings||26.8|
|Columbus Blue Jackets||29.8|
|San Jose Sharks||31.7|
No team comes close to Calgary when looking at these statistics. The Flames are not only generating more chances than any other team, but they are also generating the most dangerous chances, and converting on them.
Again, let’s compare to the top tier teams in the league. Carolina has the fourth highest rank, Florida has the fifth highest, Colorado is the ninth highest, and Tampa Bay comes in at the eleventh highest. Calgary again ranks higher than all of them, this time with some sizeable separation as well.
The advanced stats also point to Calgary as the team that has been playing the best brand of hockey for almost two months.
Top players on top teams
Now that we have covered how well the team has been playing, why not dive in to how well the players on the Flames have been playing over the past three months.
Since December 10, Jonathan Huberdeau has registered the most points in the league with 52. However, right behind him is Johnny Gaudreau with 49. Matthew Tkachuk comes in sixth in the league with 46 points.
It’s safe to say that Hart Trophy candidate Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk have been on an absolute tear this season, but especially during the past three months. They have been a key reason for why the Flames have been as good as they have been.
At 5v5, the numbers are even more impressive. According to NaturalStatTrick, since the start of the season, Johnny Gaudreau leads the league in total points with 51 in 59 games played. Matthew Tkachuk is fifth in the league with 43 points in 59 games. Calgary’s incredible play is not done through being mediocre at 5v5 play and taking advantage of the power play, but is is done through playing a solid 60 minute game at both 5v5 and with special teams.
It’s no secret that the Tkachuk, Lindholm, and Gaudreau line has been one of the best lines in hockey. According to MoneyPuck.com, while playing more than 700 minutes together, the line has recorded a 62.6 xGF%. In comparison to lines that have played a minimum ice time of 300 minutes together, that ranks them third in the league.
What many people don’t realize however, is that the line that is second in the league for xGF% is the Mangiapane, Backlund, and Coleman line as they have registered a 63.6 xGF% while playing 326 minutes together. Those are fantastic numbers for that line, and the best part is that they are also a very defensively responsible line as well as the line has a 1.77 xGA per 60 Minutes.
That is the second best in the league. While many teams would consider themselves lucky to have one elite line on their team, the Calgary Flames have the ability to put together two of them.
It’s time to be all-in on Calgary
I understand that right now the Flames are eighth in the league overall and that we can’t completely discredit October and November. However, this isn’t just a two week winning streak for the Flames, this is multiple months of dominant play on both ends of the ice.
Every single statistic mentioned shows that the Calgary Flames not only belong in the top tier of the NHL, but that there is a very strong case that they have now been crowned the best team currently. With two elite lines, a Vezina-calibre goalie, a top power play and penalty kill, and a Jack Adams favourite behind the bench, there is no team playing better right now.
It’s as simple as that. The true test, as always with this team, is if they can continue this play come playoff time. No matter how strong the regular season results end up being, Flames fans know all too well that without a deep run, the year means nothing.
However, at the end of the day, let’s call this team what they are right now: the best team in the NHL.
Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images