The Calgary Flames have now had a few days to digest the shocking and massively disappointing second round exit from the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. After such promise all season long and especially heading into the playoffs, the Flames went crashing out in the second round to their bitter rivals the Edmonton Oilers in just five games.
When a season ends the way it did for the Flames, there’s bound to be plenty of reasons why. Now that we’ve been able to sit back and erase at least some of the emotion from the series loss, we can take a deeper look at understanding just what went wrong for the Flames that led them to winning just one game in the second round.
Take a deep breath, it’s a long list.
Markstrom’s goaltending fell off a cliff
Perhaps the most obvious issue that could be observed from the Flames 4–1 series loss is just how poorly Jacob Markstrom played in the series. After a tremendous regular season that saw him finish as a Vezina finalist, Markstrom was perhaps the Flames’ MVP in Round 1, posting a .943 save percentage in the series.
Going into the second round, goaltending seemed to be one of the Flames’ largest advantages. Unfortunately it ended up being the exact opposite. Right off the bat in Game 1, Markstrom seemingly kept the Oilers in the game, allowing six goals on just 28 shots. It never got better after that.
Markstrom would fail to post a save percentage above .900 in all five games of the series and was even pulled in Game 3. For whatever reason, Markstrom just could not figure out the Oilers this season. All numbers are all situations courtesy of evolving-hockey.com.
|Stat||Against rest of NHL (64GP)||Against the Oilers (9GP)|
The numbers are night and day. Markstrom was lights out all season… until he was playing the Oilers. His GAA more than doubled against the Oilers while his save percentage went from elite starter to replacement level backup. Markstrom allowed at least four goals in eight of his nine games against the Oilers. During the regular season he allowed at least four goals just 10 times against every other team.
In Round 1, Markstrom posted a 6.25 goals saved above expected (GSAx) in all situations. In Round 2, his GSAx was -7.77. It truly can’t be stated how much he fell off after the first round. He went from helping the Flames win to hurting their chances of winning. Like his play, his cumulative GSAx fell off a cliff as soon as the Oilers series started.
So why did Markstrom struggle so much against the Oilers this season, and especially in the playoffs? Elliotte Friedman had some insider theories on his 32 Thoughts podcast earlier this week.
“…he got knocked out of his comfort zone by Edmonton’s speed. All year long Calgary could dictate where the shots were coming from and they could lock teams down, they couldn’t do that against the Oilers and Markstrom got thrown.”Elliotte Friedman on 32 Thoughts
As Friedman mentions, the Flames couldn’t handle the Oilers speed and were giving up a lot of chances they weren’t during the regular season. That can’t be easy on a goalie. Considering Markstrom himself said he wasn’t playing injured, this theory from Friedman makes the most sense for the time being.
It also echoes the very true fact that Markstrom’s struggles aren’t all on him. The Flames were simply dreadful defensively all series long, giving up high-danger chance after high-danger chance. For a goalie to go from playing behind an elite defensive team all season to one giving up a plethora of chances every game, it’s bound to cause issues.
That said, for a Vezina finalist making $6 million a year, you expect much more regardless of the tough circumstances. The Flames are paying Markstrom the big money to show up in the biggest and toughest moments, not wilt and struggle when things get tough.
Perhaps more information comes out later this year regarding any injuries, but for right now the Flames are left guessing why their Vezina finalist turned into a replacement level goalie during the most important stretch of the season. Perhaps Arpon Basu put it best.
Lack of coaching adjustments from Sutter
As much as it pains me to say this—because I think Darryl Sutter is a legend and was the best coach in the NHL this season—he was outcoached in the Flames’ second round series. Obviously the biggest factor in the series was the play of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who went supernova and dominated the Flames all series.
The duo can’t be contained, but they can at least be slowed down with the proper matchups. Unfortunately for whatever reason Sutter refused to line match against the Oilers elite top line and the Flames paid the price. He’s never been a big fan of line matching, and instead rolls four lines consistently most games.
Because of that, Sutter went power versus power for most of the series, putting the Flames elite top line out against McDavid and Draisaitl. It went very badly for the Flames.
|Gaudreau/Lindholm/Tkachuk vs McDavid/Draisaitl||23:07||58.10||48.81||40.96||1.93||5.06||2.32||2.42|
Regardless of who they’re up against the McDavid and Draisaitl duo will almost always get the upper hand. By sticking the Flames’ top line and the carrier of their offence out there every night against the Oilers top line, the Flames were essentially neutralizing their main source of offensive production by making them defend #97 and #29 all night.
This is especially true given Draisaitl’s injury that made him unable to centre his own line. The Oilers depth gets much thinner when their two stars are on the same line. There’s no doubt the Flames top trio could’ve dominated any line the Oilers have in their bottom nine if they were freed from the McDavid matchup.
What makes Sutter’s decision even more frustrating is the fact the Flames had a perfect shutdown line available to matchup against McDavid, which would have given their top line much easier matchups all series. Mikael Backlund’s line was one of the lone bright spots in the series, and in their limited time against McDavid the trio actually came out on top in most metrics.
|Mangiapane/Backlund/Coleman vs McDavid/Draisaitl||10:31||48.99||60.89||100||0.94||2.03||0.35||0.23|
In terms of the centre matchup, here’s a further breakdown by JFresh that shows just how well Backlund played against the McDavid line in the series compared to Elias Lindholm.
Keeping the Flames’ top line out against McDavid every game despite it not working right was a fatal mistake by Sutter and one that had a big impact on the outcome of the series. Had he adjusted earlier and freed up the top line while letting Backlund’s line handle McDavid, who knows how differently the series would’ve ended.
The Flames’ inability to hold a lead
The inability to hold a lead through to the end of a game is something that has plagued the Flames for years, however this year it seemed things were different. With a new defensively sound coach, and a tight style of play the Flames defied score effects and continued to pour on the pressure even when ahead.
The Flames were among the very best teams in the NHL this season at scoring first, and then holding on to win after that. They scored first in 49 games this season and had a superb 37–9–3 record in those games. During the regular season, if the Flames scored first, it was almost always guaranteed to be a win.
In Round 1, the trend continued for the most part. The Flames did only score first in two games, but they won both. In the second round it was a different story. Against the Oilers the Flames scored first in Games 1, 2, and 5, but posted a 1–2 record in those games—all of which were on home ice.
Not only did they score first in those three games, they scored the first two goals in all three games and held at least a two-goal lead in the second period of all three. During the regular season that would’ve been a death sentence for the Oilers. Not so much in the playoffs.
|1||6–2 (11:36 remaining in 2nd)||9–6 win|
|2||3–1 (17:56 remaining in 2nd)||5–3 loss|
|5||2–0 (14:19 remaining in 2nd)||5–4 OT loss|
In Game 1, the Flames blew a massive 6–2 lead, but were able to squeak out a 9–6 win. Unfortunately in Game 2, after being up 2–0 and then 3–1, they would allow four unanswered goals and lose 5–3. This really seemed like the turning point for the series. Had the Flames held on to win, they would’ve locked up a commanding 2–0 series lead and been in full control. Instead the Oilers rode the four straight goals into Game 3 and the rest of the series.
Then again in a must win Game 5 they went up 2–0 just 5:41 into the second period, only to get outscored by the Oilers 5–2 for the remainder of the game and lose 5–4 in overtime.
It almost seemed like after the blown 6–2 lead, the Flames reverted to their old ways of years past for the rest of the series and were playing nervous and tentative when holding a lead. It’s quite remarkable that the Flames held at least a two-goal lead in the second period in three of five games in this series, and yet lost the series in five games.
Scoring disappeared after Game 1
On paper, you could’ve argued that the Flames forward group going into the playoffs was perhaps their deepest since the 1988–89 Stanley Cup winning season. It really looked that good. After signing Blake Coleman in the offseason, and then going out and acquiring two big pieces in Tyler Toffoli and Calle Jarnkrok at the deadline, the Flames boasted one of the deepest forward groups in the entire NHL.
Unfortunately despite all that depth, the team got very minimal output from their middle-six in the playoffs. If you aren’t getting any scoring from your depth players, you won’t go far in the playoffs. Considering the Flames also didn’t get much from their top line in this series after Game 1, they needed their depth to show up in a big way and it just didn’t happen.
The Flames’ depth players were mostly no shows or didn’t contribute until it was already too late. After the team’s offensive explosion in Game 1, here’s how the middle-six’s offensive production looked across the next four games. Stats are all situations courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com.
|Player||Goals (Games 2 to 5)||Assists (Games 2 to 5)||Points (Games 2 to 5)|
All said, some pitiful production from the team’s middle-six group. Between the six players, they managed just five goals combined between Games 2 through 5. As well, Jarnkrok and Andrew Mangiapane’s lone goals both came in Game 5. Between Games 2 to 4, this group of six players produced just two goals—one from Backlund and one from Toffoli.
Now the Oilers didn’t get a ton of production from their middle-six either, but they had two players in Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins who both outscored every middle six forward on the Flames. In fact, with Hyman’s six points and Nugent Hopkins’ four in the final four games of the series, the duo nearly outscored all six Flames forwards listed above combined. Hyman’s four goals alone were one short of the entire middle-six of the Flames.
The Oilers had a total of five forwards produce at a point per game pace after Game 1. The Flames had none. Backlund and Gaudreau were the only two Flames forwards to post a points per game rate higher than 0.5 in the final four games of the series. Just not good enough across the board.
Matthew Tkachuk didn’t manage a single goal after scoring a hat trick in Game 1, and ended the series with just one more point after that game. Lindholm meanwhile posted just one goal and one assist in the final four games of the series. For a line that had three 40 goal scorers, they combined for just two goals in the four most important games of the season.
When your top line is struggling you need your depth to show up, and for the Flames it never happened. If your top players aren’t producing and you get just five goals combined from your middle-six across four games, you’re not going to win many games.
Goals being disallowed
This could be a section of what went wrong for just about every Flames playoff run in recent memory. In all three instances where the Flames have made it past the first round since winning the Stanley Cup in 1988–89, the team has been on the wrong end of a terrible disallowed goal call.
This year’s came at the absolute worst time, as the Flames were five minutes away from forcing a Game 6 and putting all the pressure back on the Oilers. Sure the Flames didn’t play well at all this series, and one disallowed goal isn’t an excuse for them getting bounced out of the playoffs, but it can’t be denied that it drastically shifted the entire series.
Had the Flames held on to win Game 5 and make it a 3–2 series, they would’ve been one road win away from forcing a Game 7 on home ice. All the pressure would’ve then been on an Oilers team notorious for choking in the playoffs.
Sure, it’s all what ifs and theoretical, but you can’t help but wonder what could’ve been had the officiating crew made the correct call and Blake Coleman’s go ahead goal had counted. Instead, the Flames were once again burned by a bad call in the playoffs and their season ended.
What could have been for Calgary
Once again Flames fans are left wondering what could have been after another failed postseason run. At the very least the team finally got over the first round hump, but losing in such embarrassing fashion to a very beatable team and your biggest rival makes the first round victory mean much less.
If it wasn’t one thing, it was the other as the Flames had numerous things go horribly wrong in this series. Just when everything seemed to be going the Flames way after Game 1, it suddenly wasn’t. After a regular season in which seemingly everything went right, the exact opposite happened in Round 2 against the Oilers and it led to a crushing 4–1 series loss.
Now the team and fans alike are left to think of what could have been if only a few of these factors flipped the other way in their favour. I guess we’ll never know.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire