Due to some COVID-19 delays, the Calgary Flames embarked on a five-game road trip over a week ago that ended in mixed results. Starting out in Seattle and Chicago with two wins, the Flames ended their trip with a three-game challenge against three of the league’s top teams. The Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes all handed the Flames regulation loss, often in a dominant fashion.
The team now sits at 17-10-6 on the season and currently sits third in the Pacific Division (albeit with a number of games on the line against Vegas and Anaheim). The team have been able to handle business against the Eastern Conference this season, but recent games against some of the league’s top teams have not come to fruition.
Therefore, what is the perception of the fan base in terms of how the team ranks against the best in the league?
Based on the results, it appears the majority of fans don’t see the Flames in the top tier compared to the rest of the league. There is almost an even split between the team either close to being in the foreground or absolutely far from it. So the most important answer is in the middle of the pack.
Does this sound familiar to you?
Whether that’s true or not, the fanbase clearly considers this version of the Flames to be neither dominant nor terrible once again. But how much is there any truth in this?
The stats behind the Flames
Now, in terms of top-tier teams this season, for the sake of comparison, we’ll take a look at the top five teams in terms of point percentage as of January 8. No disrespect to the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, or Pittsburgh Penguins, but we want to focus only on that top five versus the Flames.
In terms of some of their overall stats at 5v5, here’s how the teams ranked:
|Carolina hurricanes||55.9% (2nd)||53.6% (5th)||54.8% (4th)||54.3% (5th)|
|Florida Panthers||56.4% (1st)||55.4% (2nd)||56.4% (1st)||54.1% (6th)|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||52.3% (8th)||54.5% (4th)||$ 55.0 (3rd)||53.8% (8th)|
|Tampa Bay Lighting||51.6% (11th)||53.2% (6th)||52.3% (8th)||56.6% (1st)|
|Colorado Avalanche||53.0% (5th)||52.4% (8th)||54.6% (5th)||52.4% (11th)|
|Calgary Flames||53.8% (4th)||53.1% (7th)||55.6% (2nd)||53.5% (9th)|
Obviously, the numbers don’t lie here in terms of the top five teams selected for comparison. Almost every team makes the top 10 across the board except for a few outliers and shows how really good these teams really are.
What needs to be emphasized is how good the Flames are in terms of underlying numbers. The Flames don’t make any outside the top ten in any of the categories and often outperform some of their competitors on this list.
It shows that although they had a few tough games last week, their season as a whole has been pretty solid. This is even with the COVID delay.
Take a look at some other metrics, thanks to @JFreshHockey on Twitter, the Flames continue to post good results:
In terms of 5v5 score and venue-adjusted expected goals, the Flames are ranked fifth overall at 54.7%. If you take a look above and below them you’ll see that these top five teams are split from third to eighth place, with the Flames making the meat of hockey’s elite sandwich.
The team are clearly playing a style strong enough to tip expected goals in their favor every night. Aside from a few interesting cases, it’s clear that the top eleven teams on this list lead, if not very close, to their respective divisions. Pretty good company.
If you further divide the values into pro and con expected goals by 60 at 5v5 SVA, the trend continues:
The Flames are among the top 10 teams in both categories and this needs to be highlighted. They are playing well, they just didn’t get the results they needed.
That being said, there are a few areas of concern for the team that were a clear red flag coming out of their trip down south. One of them being the depth score, or lack thereof.
One constant, rather annoying trend that has crept into this team for years is their inability to score any points in their last six. This question was masked to start the season with the sparkle of Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, Matthew Tkachuk, and André Mangiapane leading the offense in a scorching manner. Now that they’ve cooled down a bit, the holes in the lineup have started to show a lot more.
Between the likes of Brett ritchie, Adam ruzicka, Tyler pitlick, Brad richardson, and Trevor Lewis, there were six goals scored. Two of which were empty nets. However, no changes have been made to this configuration of the last six.
This is clearly where the Flames struggle against the top teams in the league:
Their 5v5 goals scored above expectations are ranked 26th in the league at -10.6. Even with their top row resulting in a lot of play, they just don’t get much more.
This is where the team needs to focus their efforts to move forward.
Where do they rank?
I think it’s safe to say that while the squad is currently set up, the squad are analytically strong and have been able to outperform a number of teams in the league. When it comes to the best in the league it’s hard to say they’re at their level, but I think they’re almost there with a few minor tweaks.
Call it optimism, but the Flames simply lost three games to three extremely rich and talented teams. Add the fact that Jacob Markstrom only played in one of those matches, and maybe with a bit of luck the results would have been very different.
What would have been more interesting was seeing the reaction if the Flames had lost their previous two games against the Kraken and the Blackhawks, and only won one of the three played last week? Or even if the team had just achieved a victory?
I think the perception of what this team is, or could be, is changing quickly this season more than in the past. Time will tell what they are, but right now they have the backbone and playstyle to help them reach that next level.
Photo by: Kamil Krzaczynski (The Associated Press)