Calgary Flames

Chris Tanev and MacKenzie Weegar have quietly been among the best defensive pairs in the NHL

There is a lot going wrong with the Calgary Flames right now. The team has lost eight of their last 12 games and sit fifth in the Pacific Division. They are struggling to score goals with their best players not being their best players. Further, they struggled to keep the puck out of the back of their own net, with Jacob Markstrom being a weak link of late on the team.

Despite this, one of the few bright spots has been the incredible play of Chris Tanev and MacKenzie Weegar, who have formed one of the best pairings in the league. Let’s take a deeper look.

Tanev and Weegar together

After bouncing around through the lineup, the Flames have found a pairing with excellent chemistry between Weegar and Tanev. The pair has played over 120 minutes together so far. Both have been heavy shutdown guys throughout their careers which bodes well for the Flames. With Tanev being able to elevate a weaker partner on his line, it was exciting to think of what could happen if he was paired with an excellent partner on his side, and now there’s evidence.

In their short stint as a pairing, the two boast among the best expected goals for and against in the league. Take a look at how they rank compared to pairings that have played at least 100 minutes together per

123.182.91 (23rd)2.04 (9th)

The first number is not a surprise. Both Tanev and Weegar are known for a lot of things but putting points on the board is not one of them. When they are on the ice, their main job is as it has always been to stop opposing players from scoring. However, in a sample of 77 pairings that have played at least 100 games this season, to be sitting 23rd, and first among Flames’ blueline pairings, is a really strong statement from the pairing. In some ways, this is perhaps more impressive than their expected goals against.

However, the latter number is exceptional. When on the ice, the pair is expected to allow only two goals per 60 minutes on the ice. With them averaging around 20 minutes of ice time a night, that means they are expected to be on the ice for less than one goal against per game at 5v5, which is impressive.

Away from expected goals, there are two things that are sinking them from being right at the top across the board. The first is the on-ice shooting percentage of the team with they’re on the ice. Only seven teams have a worse shooting percentage than the Calgary Flames at this point in the season. The team is shooting just over 7.5%, which is abysmally low for a team with as many snipers as they do. When Tanev and Weegar are on the ice, the team is shooting around 7.75%, but this is still far far lower than league average.

The other factor that is really hurting the pairing from being near the top of the league has been the on-ice save percentage—basically how good Markstrom has been when they’re over the boards. While nearly every other pairing above them has had an on-ice save percentage above 0.900, Tanev and Weegar have struggled with a 0.885, which is really not great when you have a Vezina-calibre netminder as your starter. The Flames need Markstrom to be better than he has been, and they need that now.

What to expect going forward

It’s very easy when the Flames are struggling to think that the slump will never end. The team has a lot of areas of their game to improve, but the underlying numbers and positives are there. If they can start translating their play into goals, the slump will have to come to an end at some point.

The good news is that they have the talent and capacity to break out of this. And with the play of their backend guys like the pairing of Tanev and Weegar, it feels like a matter of when not if. GM Brad Treliving built this team from the backend out, and the strong underlying numbers coming for the Flames’ top shutdown pair point to them being able to break as a team sooner than later.

Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire

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