Monday, December 08, 2014

Eight From 80 Feet: PK is Killin' It, No Goalie, No Problem, Pre-Christmas Exam, and More

Welcome to the second edition of a new content feature -- Eight from 80 Feet.

Comprised of a blend of anecdotes, recaps, statistics, analysis and maybe an opinion or prediction sprinkled in as well, it's a round-up of random thoughts on the current goings-on with the Calgary Flames.

If you missed the first one from last week, which examined topics such as Calgary's NHL-best ability to avoid losing streaks, Sean Monahan's shootout prowess and his lofty ranking in the NHL all-time, and the American Thanksgiving myth, you can find it here. The content is still very much relevant.


1. Winning!

Full disclosure: This is about as far away as you can possibly get from advanced hockey analytics so if you're one of the extremists in that crowd, save your energy and your angry tweets, and just chill out for a minute. Trust me, I am not proposing this as a new way to evaluate players.

I've always found it interesting to see how the team fares with different players in the line-up so I decided to compile this rudimentary data. The impetus for doing this came with the scratching of Sven Baertschi on Saturday for the first time in 11 games, which also coincided with the Flames losing for just the third time in 11 games. In fact, the last time Baertschi was in the press box -- Nov. 10 in Carolina, Calgary also lost.

In what I'd classify as more coincidence than correlation, here is the Flames W-L record along with points percentage when various Flames players are in the line-up. This list is comprised of guys that have been in/out of the press box, were recalled from the minors, or have missed significant chunks of the season due to injury:

  • Sven Baertschi 11-3-0, .786
  • David Jones 11-3-1, .767
  • Markus Granlund 12-5-0, .706
  • Michael Ferland 6-3-0, .667
  • Raphael Diaz 7-4-0, .636
  • Josh Jooris, 12-7-2, .619
  • Mason Raymond 5-4-1, .550
  • Joe Colborne 5-4-2, .545
  • Matt Stajan 5-5-2, .500
  • Brian McGrattan 4-4-0, .500


Sometimes pairing up guys can result in even more extreme results -- one way or another, and in an example of that, the Flames are 1-4-0 in games in which both Stajan and McGrattan suit-up.


2. Pre-Christmas Exam

Thanks to a productive first two months in which Calgary has already stashed away 36 valuable points in the vault, the Flames have put themselves in a position where they will remain in the mix for a playoff spot if they can play .500 hockey for the remainder of the year. However, is that a reasonable expectation?

These next eight games leading up to Christmas could be a good indicator.

Given the calibre of opponent and the circumstances, eight points over the next eight games should be considered a pass on what I'm calling the Flames pre-Christmas exam.

Here's a closer look:
  • Segment 1 - Four-game road trip with stops in Toronto, Buffalo and Pittsburgh (back-to-back nights), and then wrapping up in Chicago. With all four teams on a roll lately (Maple Leafs 5-2-0, Sabres 6-3-0, Penguins 5-2-0, Blackhawks 6-0-0), Calgary should be very happy if it can net four points and three points would be acceptable also.
  • Segment 2 - Home games against the NY Rangers and Dallas. A couple tough match-ups as the Stars are one of the Western teams Calgary has to beat in order to make the playoffs. Winning both of these games won't be easy but depending on how the prior road trip goes, that might be necessary. A split, at minimum, is a must.
  • Segment 3 - The final two games before Christmas are road games in Vancouver and in Los Angeles. That game with the Kings is the first of five meetings this year with the defending Stanley Cup champions. A split would be very good but more than anything, at least one point and avoiding two regulation losses will be key.

The start of the season has been a nice story but if the Flames want to silence their many critics, who are blaring "lucky" and "unsustainable" from their megaphones, then these next two weeks is their chance to do just that. Otherwise, this same group will soon be chortling, "I told you so."

Here is the rubric on how I'll grade this pre-Christmas stretch of eight games:
  • 12 points or more - Change your late April/May vacation plans
  • 10 or 11 points - Time for the skeptics to shut-up
  • 8 or 9 points - Excellent
  • 6 or 7 points - Satisfactory
  • 4 or 5 points - Concern creeping in
  • 3 points or less - Uh-oh. Sound the alarm.


3. Keep Killin' It on the PK

As the analytics folks have been so kind to point once or twice, Calgary's scorching hot goal-scoring is off the charts right now and will level off eventually.

When that happens, whether it's an average of half-a-goal per game or whatever, they'll have to make up that difference in other areas if they hope to continue their success. One way to mitigate scoring less goals is by giving up less goals and the team's penalty killing, which has struggled much of the season, provides that opportunity.

Entering the game against Anaheim on Nov. 25, Calgary's penalty killing ranked 29th in the NHL. That's going to make this area of their game a serious liability over 82 games. However, things have been on the uptick since then with the Flames perfect on the PK in the last six games.

Sharing in the credit can be the remarkable discipline the club has shown. Over that span, Calgary has been shorthanded just eight times. Another positive is the return to the fold of Matt Stajan, who will help on face-offs and give the Flames more penalty killing depth.

Saturday night against San Jose and the NHL's third-best power play, a key kill of a 5-on-3 late in the third period is what turned the game's momentum around and allowed Calgary to nearly tie it up. It's not just about preventing the opponent from scoring, but it's about wrestling back the game's momentum and a clutch kill can be one of the most galvanizing rallying points in a hockey game.


4. No Goalie, No Problem

It's been a fascinating story line so I set out to take a closer look. Specifically in the circumstance of trailing late in the game and pulling the goalie for an extra attacker (as opposed to pulling the goalie during a delayed penalty), Calgary has played 15 minutes and 26 seconds with an empty net this year.

In what is the least sustainable of any of the Flames gaudy statistics at this point, it's Calgary's success in these scenarios that continues to astound.

Here's a full breakdown of how they've fared in this scenario:
  • Flames lead 4-2 in goals.
  • Three of the goals came in eventual wins (two against New Jersey, one against Colorado).
  • All four goals have been even-strength (so at 6-on-5).
  • Top scorers are Jiri Hudler (2-1-3), Curtis Glencross (1-1-2), Mark Giordano (0-2-2)
  • Hudler is the lone player to be on the ice for all four goals. Others: Glencross, Giordano, and TJ Brodie (3). Sean Monahan, Josh Jooris (2). 
  • Flames hold a 14-2 edge in shots on goal. They are led by Giordano (3), Wideman (3), Hudler (2) and Gaudreau (2).
  • Flames hold a 27-5 edge in shots attempted (includes shots blocked, and missed shots).
  • Monahan has been the go-to guy at the dot taking 11 of 16 face-offs, winning six of them.

If Calgary's stunning third period dominance (outscoring teams 39-16) are Playboy magazine, their furious last minute comebacks have been the centerfold.


5. MG4MVP

The trophy for the player voted the most valuable player in the NHL is called the Hart Memorial Trophy. Considering the importance of the position, it seems criminal that Chris Pronger (1999-00) is the only blue-liner to have won this trophy in over 40 years.

In fact, Bobby Orr (three times -- 1969-70, 1970-71, 1971-72) and Pronger are the only two defencemen to have won it in the last 70 years. It's hard to fathom considering the MVP went to a defenceman seven times in a 12-year span just prior to that, back in the 30s and early 40s.

The reason this is topical is last week, Mark Giordano was named the NHL's first star of the month for November. If you're the best NHL player for a month, you've pretty much won a miniature Hart Trophy. Since the NHL started naming its three stars of the month in 2006-07, a defenceman has never been named first star of the month until Giordano last week.

In chronolgical order beginning with the most recent, here is the full list of defencemen, who have been named one of the NHL's three stars of the month. While it may be a short list, it's a pretty impressive group:
  • Nov 2014 - Mark Giordano, CGY, 1st
  • Mar 2013 - PK Subban, MTL, 2nd
  • Feb 2012 - Erik Karlsson, OTT, 2nd
  • Jan 2011 - Keith Yandle PHX, 2nd
  • Dec 2010 - Niklas Lidstrom DET, 3rd
  • Feb 2009 - Mike Green WSH, 2nd
  • Jan 2009 - Scott Niedermayer, ANA, 2nd
  • Oct 2008 - Shea Weber, NSH, 3rd
  • Oct 2006 - Scott Niedermayer, ANA, 3rd

Giordano's announcement also came on the five-year anniversary of the last Flames player to be named one of the three stars for a month. For his performance during November 2009, Jarome Iginla was named the NHL's first star after a torrid month in which he went 13-7-20 in 14 games and helped Calgary go 10-2-2.

If not the Hart, the Norris Trophy for the league's top defenceman should definitely be a possibility for Giordano this season. If there was a Late Bloomer Award, that would be awarded to the undrafted Flames captain in a landslide.


6. Offensive Defensemen

I was remarking the other day as we watched the Flames play San Jose that it's absolutely amazing how many times you look up and see a Calgary defenceman behind the opposition net. Often, it's Brodie, but it's been Giordano also. Wideman or Wideman have been spotted there as well and even Smid has been spotted lumbering around behind enemy lines.

With this aggressive deployment of their blue-liners, it's no co-incidence that Calgary leads the NHL by far in goals and points from its defence. Plus, it's a style of play that teams are struggling to counter. Watch the Flames break out of their own end and with the speed of a Brodie, Giordano or Russell, they jump up into the rush to turn a harmless 2-on-2 into a 3-on-2 or a 3-on-2 into a dangerous 4-on-2. They provide an additional passing option that teams can't seem to defend.

It's a style of play that you need the right personnel to succeed at and Brodie is perfect for it as whenever he's the first player up the ice, he's usually one of the first two guys back if the puck turns over.

It makes you wonder how much more effective Jay Bouwmeester could have been in a Flames uniform all those years if the team played a similar style and he always had that green light. With his smooth skating and ability to go 200 feet in a handful of strides, he would be loving this style of game Calgary is playing and probably thriving in it too.


7. Oh Canada, No Calgary

Just twice in the last dozen years has Calgary's prospect cupboard been represented at the World Junior Hockey Championships in the form of a forward on Team Canada. Those two were Greg Nemisz (2010) and Dustin Boyd (2006). This year, Morgan Klimchuk has a chance.

The Flames 2013 first round pick, who plays for the Regina Pats (WHL), will attend the Team Canada World Junior selection camp in Toronto beginning on Dec. 11. The Calgary native is one of 17 forwards and 29 players invited to try and make the 22-player team. This year, the always popular event is on home turf, taking place in Toronto and Montreal.

Muddying the picture is not included on the invite roster are four additional eligible forwards playing in the NHL right now. Each of these players could be released by their team to attend -- Bo Horvat (Vancouver), Curtis Lazar (Ottawa), Jonathan Drouin (Tampa Bay) and Anthony Duclair (NY Rangers).

Unfortunately, due to his shoulder surgery, Flames prospect Sam Bennett - fourth overall pick in last year's draft, will not be able to participate. If you missed it, Bennett talked with the media for the first time on Friday since his operation. Here's my story on that as he discussed his rehab routine, what he has thought of the Flames season so far, and excitedly speculated about the club's bright future.

Here is the complete list of Flames prospects that have played for Team Canada at the World Juniors:

  • 2013 - Tyler Wotherspoon
  • 2010 (Silver) - Greg Nemisz
  • 2007 (Gold) - Leland Irving
  • 2006 (Gold) - Dustin Boyd
  • 2005 (Gold) - Dion Phaneuf
  • 2004 (Silver) - Dion Phaneuf
  • 2002 (Silver) - Chuck Kobasew
  • 2001 (Bronze) - Jarret Stoll*
  • 1999 (Silver) - Robyn Regehr^, Blair Betts, Rico Fata, Daniel Tkaczuk
  • 1998 - Daniel Tkaczuk
  • 1996 (Gold) - Denis Gauthier, Jarome Iginla
  • 1995 (Gold) - Marty Murray
  • 1994 (Gold) - Joel Bouchard, Marty Murray
  • 1993 (Gold) - Joel Bouchard
  • 1992 - Trevor Kidd
  • 1991 (Gold) - Trevor Kidd, Kent Manderville
  • 1990 (Gold) - Trevor Kidd, Kent Manderville
  • 1988 (Gold) - Theoren Fleury
  • 1987 - Theoren Fleury
  • 1986 (Silver) - Joe Nieuwendyk, Gary Roberts
  • 1985 (Gold) - Brian Bradley
  • 1983 (Bronze) - Mike Vernon
  • 1982 (Gold) - Bruce Eakin, Pierre Rioux^
  • 1981 - Denis Cyr
  • 1978 (Bronze) - Brad Marsh#
  • 1977 - Brad Marsh#

* Was a Calgary draft pick but never ended up signing.
^ Was not yet Calgary property but became so shortly after and made his NHL debut with the Flames
# Was an Atlanta Flames draft pick but made his NHL debut with Calgary


8. Looking Into the Goalie Pipeline 

Jon Gillies is putting together a pretty nice season in his third year at Providence College and you would have to think that unless he falters, the Flames will be very anxious to sign the 2012 third round pick this summer and get him into the organization where they can begin working with him more closely.

Since the beginning of November, Gillies has gone 6-3-0 with a stingy 1.01 goals-against average and a tidy .967 save percentage.

With Joni Ortio on a one-way contract for next year that will require him to pass through waivers in order to be sent to the AHL, that likely means he'll be in the NHL. Thus, Calgary would love to have Gillies, who turns 21 in January, become the new No. 1 for Adirondack in 2015-16.

Gillies is a long way away from being NHL-ready but if he keeps up how he's been playing, it will be important for his development to turn pro and bump up the level of competition and that comes with a jump to pro hockey and the AHL. He could be there for at least a couple seasons before he will legitimately compete for a job in Calgary. Also, signing him him after three years like Calgary did with Johnny Gaudreau eliminates any flight risk concerns that are associated with a player choosing to play his full four years at college.

Ortio got off to a shaky start to the season in Adirondack but as the baby Flames have heated up, so has he. In his last 10 starts, he is 8-2-0 with a 1.91 GAA and a .934 SV%.

You'll recall last year when the Flames controversially used their second round draft pick, 34th overall, to draft Mason McDonald. I still understand Calgary using that pick at that time for all the reasons I listed here.

Playing in the QMJHL for a middle-of-the-pack team in the Charlottetown Islanders, McDonald has had an up-and-down season statistically. In mid-November, he won three straight games while giving up just four goals on 86 shots. Along the way he was named one of the QMJHL stars of the week. However, in his six starts since, he's been scuffling. He's been pulled twice and has gone 2-4-0 with a 4.87 GAA and a .856 SV%.

I wouldn't expect to see McDonald turn pro for at least two more years so while it makes for great conversation, it's far, far too early to draw any conclusions just yet on where McDonald will fit in and what his timeline will be.


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Recent Related Flames Reading
  • Bennett Happy With How His Recovery is GoingThe Saddledome has turned out to be a pretty exciting workout facility for injured prospect Sam Bennett, who is recovering from shoulder surgery. He spoke about how his rehab is going, what his timeline is and the excitement around how the Flames are playing and the club's bright future.
  • Flames Rookies Rubbing Off on the Club's Veterans - Josh Jooris and Johnny Gaudreau have been great. Their play has not only been a big part of the Flames success but also has veterans like Dennis Wideman and David Jones feeling invigorated. 
  • Eight From 80 Feet: Latest Random Musings About the Flames - Comprised of a blend of anecdotes -- sometimes quirky, recaps, statistics, analysis and with some opinions or predictions sprinkled in as well, it's a round-up of random thoughts on the current goings-on with the Calgary Flames. In this edition, you'll learn at least two things you didn't know before.
  • Two Ways To Look at "It's Not Sustainable" The analytics experts are out in full force these days. In their cross-hairs is the explanation-defying Calgary Flames, the should-be Connor McDavid contenders, who instead are contending for first place in the Western Conference. I explain that Calgary can't keep up it's current pace, but nor does it need to.
  • Wrong Side of the Tracks, Right Side of the Standings - If the 2014-15 NHL season was an 80s movie, the Flames with Byron, Bouma and Jooris would be cast as the poor kids, up against the rich kids in Eberle, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins. So far, the poor kids are dating the gorgeous cheerleader.


    2 comments:

    1. Another good read. Thanks Darren.

      ReplyDelete
    2. I predicted that the Flames would make the playoffs at the end of last year. I also predicted that they would lose 10 straight when the vets came back. I hate being right.

      ReplyDelete