We are now nearing Christmas break for this Calgary Flames team, where they have a record of 13–12–6. That is definitely not where the Flames want to be, as they currently do not sit in a playoff spot by points or point percentage. While there are several reasons for the Flames being where they are, a primary reason is the offensive generation.
No offence, Flames
This has been noticeable from an eye test perspective, where it seems like the Flames end up with the worst quality chances from areas not known as high quality. As everyone knows, it’s pretty hard to win hockey games when you aren’t generation quality chances. Via Sportlogiq, the Flames rank 25th in slot shots, and 28th in inner-slot shots. They also rank 26th in expected goals, and 19th in scoring chances. Last year, they ranked fourth, fifth, sixth, and fourth in those respective categories. A major downgrade.
We will dive into what the Flames are generating, where they are generating from, and why it hasn’t been successful. Let’s first look at average 5v5 shot quality, from Tony Wolak on Twitter:
Average 5v5 shot quality
As the graphic displays, Calgary is the third worst team when it comes to shot quality, ranking above only Colorado and Philadelphia. Teams just above Calgary include the Blue Jackets, Canucks, Coyotes, and Ducks. Colorado is really the only team that stands out amongst those listed, but one can infer their lack of shot quality is due to their entire forward core being injured at some point this season. Once everyone returns, they should skyrocket up this list. Beyond Colorado, you really don’t want to be associated with the other teams in the lower echelon of this graphic.
But this definitely tells a story of this Flames season so far. The quantity of shots has been there, as the Flames are generating the fifth highest shots per game played at 34.03, per statmuse.com. However, the quality of those shots is a problem, ranking third worst in the league. To summarize, the Flames are the fifth best team at generating shots, but the shots generating are the third worst quality. Not exactly a recipe for success.
The Flames are ranked as a “Boring” team in terms of expected goal generation
Moving onto the following graphic, courtesy of MoneyPuck.com, we can see that the Flames rank among the Rangers, Avalanche, and Wild as “Boring” teams when it comes to expected goals generation. Calgary has created 2.41 expected goals per 60 minutes, while their expected goals against sits at 2.33 per 60 minutes.
Being in the “Boring” column is better than being in the “Bad” column, but is still not where one wants to be. All of the top teams find themselves in the “Good” category, showing that the quality of shots is a key to success in the NHL. Looking at other teams in the Pacific division, Edmonton is found in the “Fun” category, while the Kraken, Kings, Golden Knights, and Sharks all appear close in the “Good” quadrant. The Canucks and Ducks find themselves in the “Bad” quadrant, which is not surprising given how both fanbases have thought about their team this season. I think Calgary being “Boring” resonates with a lot of fans, who haven’t been particularly jazzed about watching the team on a nightly basis.
Looking now to HockeyViz’s 5v5 Offence, we can compare the Flames successful offensive campaign last year, to their lacklustre showing this year. Starting off with last year, where we can see excess shots from the left point and middle of the ice. If you can get excess shots from the middle of the ice, you definitely have a stronger chance at scoring goals, and winning games. That definitely happened last year, and a +15% impact was fantastic in 2021–22.
Moving onto 2022–23, things have been… not ideal. We can see the left point has remained an area of excess shot generation. The right point has also become an area of excess shot generation. The problems stem when glancing towards the middle of the ice and the net front. As we all know, this is the most dangerous area for goal scoring. The Flames are more than struggling to generate shots from this area of the ice, which is a major problem.
This graphic definitely makes sense to my eye, where it seems like the Flames primary attack is dumping the puck in, retrieving it, and sending it back to the defender for a low quality point shot. The Flames sit at -1% in 2022–23, which is a major step down from the +15% we all enjoyed watching in 2021–22.
Worrying offensive trends plague the Flames
The Flames are currently generating the fifth highest amount of shots per game in the NHL this season. However, a major problem occurs, as Calgary ranks as the third worst team in terms of shot quality. This lack of quality shot generation has led to them playing as a “Boring” quality team. We can see why the Flames rank low in shot quality when glancing at HockeyViz’s 5v5 Offence graphics. Calgary is having a tough time generating offence from quality areas of the ice. Last season, they generated a ton of shots from high danger areas of the ice. This season, the middle of the ice has been a dark hole for offence. The Flames’ primary source of offensive generation has been from the point, which we all know to be a very low area of scoring.
In order to have success from here on out, the Flames need to find ways to generate shot attempts closer to the net. Instead of focusing on a north-south style of play, the team needs to incorporate more of an east-west approach. This was a major factor in Jonathan Huberdeau’s success with Florida last year. Leaning on an east-west system could help to make Huberdeau, and the entire team, much more successful. The team needs to get to more dangerous areas of the ice, instead of playing the puck back and taking excess shots from the point.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire