The Calgary Flames have started the year with a paltry 1–1–1 record. While new head coach Ryan Huska insists that his team has continued to play better with each game on the calendar, the results have gone in the opposite direction—one win, followed by two losses.
Despite an offensive outburst in their season opener that saw them put a five spot on the Winnipeg Jets (one was an empty-netter), the Flames have managed to score just three goals over the next two games, potentially exposing a scoring deficiency in their roster construction. This wasn’t necessarily unexpected with the departure of Tyler Toffoli and his replacement being current fourth liner Yegor Sharangovich, but many expected bounce-back seasons from the majority of the team.
The eye test doesn’t indicate that is happening just yet.
Huberdeau’s leading the team
However, Jonathan Huberdeau, who pledged to be better this year and show the city of Calgary who “the real Jonathan Huberdeau is,” is off to an interesting start. When you look at his play on the ice, it doesn’t show off the version of Huberdeau that scored 115 points, but it’s also a marked improvement from his disastrous first season in Calgary.
Sportsnet’s Pat Steinberg pointed out on Twitter last night that through three games, Huberdeau is actually the team’s leader in almost every individual shooting metric.
This is a very encouraging sign of a more confident and dialed-in player, and should be an indicator of good things to come for Huberdeau. Let’s break it down using data from Natural Stat Trick.
|Jonathan Huberdeau||Shots on Goal||Shot Attempts||Unblocked Shot Attempts|
In terms of individual shooting metrics, Huberdeau currently has 8 shots on goal, 16 shot attempts, and 13 unblocked shot attempts. He ranks either first or second in all categories, and the most encouraging are the attempts categories. He is a completely different player offensively this year who is not afraid to let the puck go.
These stats are from all situations, but Huberdeau is a leader at 5v5 as well, ranking third in shots on goal at 5v5.
No longer is Huberdeau holding onto the puck in prime shooting opportunities. He’s clearly been given the green light to shoot, and he’s taking the advice.
|Jonathan Huberdeau||Scoring chances||High-danger chances||Expected goals|
A direct result of Huberdeau’s shooting mentality and his elite offensive IQ is his ability to take the correct shots in the correct spots. Through three games, Huberdeau ranks first across the board in individual scoring chances, high-danger chances, and individual expected goals.
He is creating an average of four scoring chances just for himself every single game this season, and if he keeps this up he’ll pot a lot more goals than he did last year.
So far, his individual expected goals count lines up with his actual goals mark, but with more chances this should allow Huberdeau to reach numbers that match up with his historical totals.
Let him cook
It’s really easy to point the finger at Huberdeau and blame him for everything that has gone wrong with the Flames the past year and change. However, it’s important to keep in mind that he is along for the ride just like everyone else. Last year was a massive shock for a plethora of reasons, and while things seem to be going better and more in line with what he wants, it’s still another season with a brand-new coach and a brand-new system. It will take time for not only Huberdeau, but the entire team to adjust to Huska’s way of life and convert on the new teachings.
There are so many reasons to believe Huberdeau is in for a resurgent season. With more emphasis on shooting, this should either open Huberdeau up for more goals or force defenders to play him tighter which will open up more passing lanes. Either way, this is a win for an offensively gifted player with elite on-ice vision.
Paired with time to adjust to a new system that ideally promotes offensive creativity, Huberdeau should thrive as the season goes on.
He’s not the same player he was last year—give him a chance to prove the doubters wrong.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire