It’s still far too early into the season to ring any alarm bells, but it’s certainly getting close at this point. By losing to the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday, the Flames have now lost six straight games going 0–4–2 over that time. It’s their longest losing streak since the 2019–20 season and their longest ever under Darryl Sutter.
When a supposed Cup-contending team loses this many games in a row, it’s alarming to say the least. It begs the question of what is going wrong right now and if it’s worth worrying about, or if the numbers suggest the issues should correct themselves over time. Despite how it looks on paper, a long losing streak can be a bit misleading depending on how a teams underlying numbers look during the tough stretch.
So are the Flames truly not a very good team, or are there positives buried under their six-game skid that suggest they’ll be back on track sooner than later? Let’s take a look.
Team goal totals
All on-ice numbers are taken at 5v5, score- and venue-adjusted courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com, goaltending numbers (later below) are taken at 5v5, courtesy of Evolving-Hockey.com. League ranks are across the same time span of the Flames’ losing streak.
|Last six games||GF||xGF||GA||xGA|
Right away we see some clear take aways from these numbers. First off, the Flames rank in the top half of the league for both expected goals for and against over their last six games. A very good sign when it comes to predicting the future success of the team. They’re doing a good job at generating expected goals and limiting expected goals against.
Now for the bad news. They rank significantly lower when it comes to actual goals for and actual goals against. When it comes to goals for, they rank 10 spots lower, with around three fewer goals than expected. In terms of goals against, it gets even uglier. The Flames rank 13 spots lower and seventh last in the NHL when it comes to actual goals against. They’ve allowed around four more goals than expected across six games. Nearly one extra goal per game. You won’t win many games that way.
So while the Flames are doing a solid job on paper, their actual results have been much worse. In the end this likely comes down to poor luck, and poor goaltending. We’ll take a look at that in a bit.
|Last six games||CF%||xGF%||HDCF%|
At first glance on paper, you’d be shocked to hear the Flames haven’t won any of their last six games. Their numbers in the above three key metrics suggest they’ve been one of the best teams in the league over their last six games, not one of the worst. Such is life in professional sports. The Flames have easily stayed above water in all three metrics, which usually signifies a team that is on the top of their game. Ranking inside the top 10 in each metric yet failing to win a single game is quite the feat.
One of the reason’s the Flames numbers can be a tad misleading is how all over the board they’ve been from game to game. The Flames have either dominated possession and expected goals or been crushed. No in between. For example, take a look at the Flames xGF% trend over their last six games.
The Flames started the losing streak dominating the the expected goals share, before things got incredibly ugly against the Predators and Devils in games three and four. They then bounced right back and began to dominate the expected goals against both the Islanders and in the rematch with the Devils. After struggling for two games the Flames were able to reel things in pretty quickly, yet that didn’t translate to wins.
Offensive rate numbers
|Last six games||CF/60||xGF/60||GF/60||HDCF/60|
Again the Flames coming out looking very strong here, even more so then their percentage numbers. The Flames are generating shot attempts at a top five rate in the NHL over the losing streak. Very rarely does a team generating shot attempts at that rate losing six games in a row. They’re also top 10 in expected goals for per 60.
Where they do fall behind a bit is in terms of high-danger chances. They rank an average 15th in the league over their six-game skid. That would certainly explain some of their scoring struggles as they aren’t generating actual high-danger chances at a high-end rate. Still though, all things considered ranking 15th is still in the upper half of the league and nothing to scoff at.
What does stand out is that despite ranking eighth in the NHL in xGF/60, they rank 19th in actual goals for per 60. A sign that the team is suffering from some poor luck or lack of finishing. More on that in a bit.
Defensive rate numbers
|Last six games||CA/60||xGA/60||GA/60||HDCA/60|
The Flames’ defensive rates are solid, albeit a bit below what we’ve come to expect from a Darryl Sutter-coached team. Ranking inside the top 13 for CA/60, xGA/60, and HDCF/60 is no small feat and once again certainly not numbers that you’d expect from a team that has lost six in a row. When you’re limiting chances at the rates the Flames are, you typically expect to win more often than not. That obviously hasn’t been the case.
What is very telling however is the massive difference between their xGA/60 and actual GA/60. The Flames rank 10th for xGA/60 yet rank all the way down in 25th for actual GA/60. Again like their offensive rates, that’s a sign of some bad luck. On top of that, poor goaltending can also play a major factor in those numbers being so different. More on that later as well.
We can get a better idea of the discrepancy by charting the Flames xGA/60 and their actual GA/60. It tells a very clear story.
Throughout the Flames’ six game losing streak they have allowed fewer actual goals vs expected goals only once, in their 4–1 loss to the Predators. Outside of that game, they’ve given up more goals than expected five times. In particular in the second game of their skid against the Kraken they gave up four actual goals versus an expected total of just 1.5. You’ll never win a game with those type of numbers. Yikes.
You gotta be lucky to be good, and good to be lucky. The Flames are neither right now. The Flames are currently mired in a long stretch of just downright terrible luck. Let’s take a look.
|Last six games||5v5 Shooting %||5v5 Save %||PDO|
There’s not much else to say here. The Flames can’t get a bounce in the offensive zone and they can’t get a save in the defensive zone. You’re not gonna win any hockey games when you’re getting these type of numbers at both ends. They simply can’t buy a break right now.
The only teams that rank below the Flames in terms of PDO are the St. Louis Blues who are also on a long losing streak which currently sits at eight games, and the league worst Columbus Blue Jackets who have lost five in a row. It’s no surprise that the league’s three worst teams in terms of PDO since October 29th have all not won a single game since then. Not exactly good company to be in.
To put it into perspective, during their first six games of the season in which they posted a 5–1–0 record, the Flames had a shooting percentage of 8.42, save percentage of 91.89, and a PDO of 1.003. They ranked 20th for shooting percentage, 14th for save percentage, and 16th for PDO. Their numbers have fallen off a cliff since and so has their record.
Now the percentages suggest that this terrible luck won’t last forever as the Flames rank quite well across the league in other key metrics across their last six games. That said, we’ve seen this story before with the Flames where despite what we all expect, the percentages just never correct themselves for the rest of the season.
With the talent the Flames have on their roster and in net, you’d assume this spell of bad luck will end eventually. Here’s hoping it’s sooner rather than later.
The number in bracket is the league rank among goalies with at least 100 Fenwick against during the time span. 26 goalies qualified.
|Last six games||Save Percentage||GSAA||GA||GSAx|
|Jacob Markstrom||.894 (22nd)||-3.48 (24th)||12 (26th)||-1.52 (23rd)|
As you can tell right away, Jacob Markstrom has been far from good during the Flames six game losing streak. He ranks in the bottom five of eligible goalies in all four metrics, including ranking dead last for goals against. You simply can’t win hockey games when you’re getting this level of goaltending. Especially when it’s coming from a goalie who’s eating up $6 million a year in cap space.
Markstrom is far from the only problem plaguing the Flames right now, but he’s certainly not helping. It’s at times like this when a team is in a funk that you look to your $6 million goalie to help you get back on track. Whether it’s a big save or a stolen game, you need your Vezina-calibre goalie to come up big. Markstrom has failed to do that.
Goaltending is one of the main issues the Flames have right now. They just can’t buy a save when they need one. For example in both of their previous losses, Markstrom let in questionable goals late into the third that you’d expect him to save. In both cases the Flames lost the game. Had he made those saves that a high-end goalie like him should make, we’re likely not talking about a six-game losing streak right now.
Daniel Vladar played just one game across the losing streak, however he was dreadful in his lone appearance. He posted a .828 save percentage at even strength, as well as allowing three goals compared to an expected total of just one. His GSAx was -2.17 in the lone game he played and the Flames lost that game 5-4. I’ll let you do the math.
Whether it’s Markstrom or Vladar in net, the Flames can’t buy a save right now and it’s making it nearly impossible to win games.
Doing the right things
Despite the Flames currently stuck in the middle of a six-game losing streak, when breaking down their numbers it’s clear they are still doing a lot of things right even if the results aren’t there right now. The team is still generating shots, chances, and expected goals at a high-end rate as they rank in the top half of the league in most metrics. It may not be up to par with what we’ve seen from a Sutter-led roster, but their numbers suggest they should be far from a team that loses six in a row.
Right now their losing streak seems like a major consequence of poor goaltending, bad finishing, and terrible luck. Having major impact players out of the lineup doesn’t help either as the Flames depth is being stretched thin and Sutter seems unable to optimize the lineup with the players they have.
It’s a tad too early to hit the panic button just yet as the percentages suggest the Flames should start winning hockey games again very soon. Had they gotten a couple extra saves or bounces that normally go their way, there wouldn’t be a six-game losing streak to speak of. Let’s hope we can end this discussion after tonight’s game.
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