The Calgary Flames have been reeling, and one of the reasons is their power play efficiency. Their man-advantage is 25th ranked by traditional looks with a conversion of 19.7%, they’re in a five-way tie for 23rd with 13 power play goals, and are 24th in power play goals per 60 minutes—the latter two stats courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com. Things haven’t been good for the Flames, and this is especially true when looking at the power play.
Before we get into the labelled trends and clear structural red flags which have defined the tactics of the Flames’ power play set-up thus far, I think it is also important to pinpoint some of the other shot and finishing-related metrics that have also defined the Flames’ season thus far in this regard. For instance, the Flames are ranked top-5 league-wide in regards to shot rate differential but are only ranked 29th, in regards to shot quality differential, emphasized below as of Saturday morning.
The Flames are having trouble finishing (ranked 24th league-wide, as of Saturday morning) and creating a plethora of high-quality scoring chances. The ineffectiveness of the club’s power play up to this point certainly plays a huge factor into this as well.
The tactics defining the Flames’ power play thus far
One of the biggest weaknesses for the Flames so far this season has been the overall effectiveness and execution of their power play. As mentioned, the Flames power play is currently among the bottom of the league no matter how you break it down. Below is a heatmap measuring the club’s unblocked shot rates relative to the league’s average courtesy of HockeyViz.com.
For starters, areas labelled in orange depict a high-density shot share, whereas the areas labelled in purple depict a low-density shot share. In comparison to the most effective power plays in the league, it seems more than evident that the Flames’ tactics have worked solely through the ideology of funnelling shots from the high point and ultimately praying for a rebound. Let’s compare and contrast the Flames’ data by taking a look at the current third-ranked power play in the league: the Boston Bruins. The Bruins currently hold a PP% of 29.27, are tied for first with 23 power play markers, and have a fifth-ranked 10.74 power play goals per 60 minutes.
You can visually see a major tactical difference in the way the Flames attempt to create while on the man-advantage versus how the Bruins actually create while on the man-advantage. What is done differently? For starters, the utilization of the one-time option. Sounds simple enough right? How about royal road passes and plays below the hash marks? How about puck movement behind the net, leading to behind-the-net plays or literally just puck movement minus any sort of stagnation in general? How about tactically deploying your five skaters in a formation that effectively utilizes each of their specific skill sets?
Through the method of some frustration-filled satire, I just described everything wrong with the Flames’ power play setup and everything right about one of the most effective power plays league-wide. Sounds simple enough right?
Calgary’s power play units has no power
Let’s turn to the power play units and see what’s going on there. Current units courtesy of DailyFaceoff.com.
We have seen some slight adjustments in terms of personnel throughout the season, albeit many were brief changes (for instance Hanifin getting a look on PP1 in place of Rasmus Andersson). Regardless of their deployment, the Flames practically have no fluidity or efficiency implemented within their current formation. All five skaters are usually spread out and stagnant, there is no real tactical or high-level puck movement.
There’s a clear and heavy emphasis on essentially relying on the point man in charge, to funnel the puck through to the net, with the hopes of garnering a nice redirection on the way or a potential high-danger rebound attempt, but this is based on hope. This hope and not actual execution is why the Flames have a bottom-10 ranked power play through 21 games played thus far.
The inability to convert is costing the Flames
The fact of the matter is, the ineffectiveness of the power play has done nothing but cost the team valuable points in the standings. Something has to change and I’d say that this seems far from an on-ice personnel issue, it’s a special teams tactics and coaching issue.
That being said, however, the Flames still lack effective clear transitional entries on the man-advantage and a true power play quarterback. This has to get figured out soon and here’s to hoping it does as we get closer to Christmas because this negative trend absolutely cannot continue.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire