Calgary Flames

The Calgary Flames are using an all-hands-on-deck approach to defend Connor McDavid

For the Calgary Flames, the second round of the playoffs has been completely different than the first and it’s only been one game. In Round 1, they faced a stingy Dallas Stars team who forced the game to be defensively focused and extremely tight. In Round 2 against the Edmonton Oilers, it is wide open and in the first game, both teams traded chances all night long.

Of course, this is how the Oilers prefer to play largely in part due to Connor McDavid. The best player in the league feasts on transition and rush chances. And when the Oilers are on the road, teams almost always try to match up their best defensive line and pairing with McDavid whenever he is on the ice.

In the first game of this series however, the Flames didn’t do any matching at all. Instead, they’re using an all-hands-on-deck approach to defend the superstar. While McDavid did have four points in Game 1, the tactic of rolling four lines was fairly successful. Of course, this analysis is done at 5v5 only since special teams units are separate from the normal even strength flow of the game.

Forward line matches

Every Flames forward line skated against McDavid in Game 1 and all four lines ended with at least a few shifts’ worth of ice time against him. It wasn’t a one-off line changing scenario where a line saw McDavid only due to shift changes.

Line combinationTOI vs. McDavid
Gaudreau – Lindholm – Tkachuk8.0
Mangiapane – Backlund – Coleman4.4
Dube – Jarnkrok – Dube3.9
Lucic – Lewis – Ritchie2.4

Leading the way was actually the top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, and Matthew Tkachuk. This is a bit surprising since the second and third lines are much more defensively driven than the monster 40-40-40 goals scored top line, but this just goes to show that Darryl Sutter didn’t really worry about who was out there on the other side, he gave his best players ice time regardless.

McDavid played the most out of any skater at 5v5 in Game 1 at 18:37, so trying to match up the middle six with him would have severely limited the ice time of the Flames’ top line. By not worrying about who was out there against McDavid, Sutter was able to give his best players the ice time they needed to work their magic.

The fourth line of Milan Lucic, Trevor Lewis, and Brett Ritchie played the least against McDavid at just 2.4 minutes, and were unsurprisingly the worst at matching up with him. However, that’s the only line McDavid was able to exploit at all.

Line combinationMcDavid CF%McDavid SCF%McDavid HDCF%McDavid xGF%
Gaudreau – Lindholm – Tkachuk35.9333.3352.9443.27
Mangiapane – Backlund – Coleman50.000037.50
Dube – Jarnkrok – Dube24.1431.8209.87
Lucic – Lewis – Ritchie50.0066.67100.0066.67

By almost all accounts, the top-nine for the Flames did a good job matching up against McDavid. He did not manage over 50 CF% against any line, and only managed to own the high-danger chance share against the top line and fourth line; he got exactly zero high-danger chances when he was out there against the Mikael Backlund and Calle Jarnkrok lines.

Three things stick out here.

  1. The top line managed to get the larger share of opportunities compared to McDavid when they were on the ice together. McDavid was not able to hem the top line into the defensive zone and force them to play defence. Instead, the opposite happened. The Flames’ threw 14 pucks towards Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen while the top line was on the ice with McDavid, and the Oilers only got eight shots off in return.
  2. The middle-six was superb at shutting down McDavid. They limited him to just two scoring chances and zero high-danger chances, while creating six scoring chances and four high-danger chances for themselves.
  3. The fourth line should not be out there against McDavid. The big hit from Lucic was nice, but this is the line combination that the Oilers will exploit and it is not wise to have them out there to defend the speedy superstar.

Keeping it going

As we all know, Jacob Markstrom was not at his best and will almost certainly bounce back in Game 2, but this is the key reason why McDavid was able to put up four points, not the inability of the Flames’ skaters to match up with him.

The Flames have a deep group of forwards that can all play defence and check well within a strict Sutter style of hockey. With regression back to the mean for Markstrom, the Flames’ efforts in shutting down McDavid will bode well for their chances to win this series.

Hopefully they can keep the good times rolling in Game 2 and continue to stifle McDavid’s opportunities on the other side.

Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire

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