Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Miserable Start: Through Nine Games, Eight Stats that Tell the Flames Story

With four points through nine games, the Flames are off to their worst start in franchise history.

Sort of.

Well, probably.

OK, let me explain.

In 1995-96, Calgary only had only three points after nine games but one of the six losses in a 0-6-3 record came in overtime. That was before the NHL introduced the consolation point for overtime losses so by today's three-point system, adding in that point gets you to four.

Further, that was also before the advent of the shootout. So had there been a shootout and if the Flames would have won at least one of the three games that had ended in a tie, then they would have had at least five points by today's point system.

Similar situation in 1997-98. The record after nine games was 1-6-2 but one of those six losses was in OT so that year Calgary would have also been at five points by today's model.

Regardless, whether it's the worst start, second-worst, tied-for-worst, it's a small quibble compared to the reality that this team simply isn't anywhere near where they thought they would be at this juncture of the season.

Eight Stats That Tell the Story

1. 1-3-0 When Leading After One Period

In three weeks, the Flames have already blown more first period leads then they did all last season. A year ago, only the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks (26-3-0, .897) had a better winning percentage when leading after one period, compared to Calgary (16-2-0, .889).

This year, the Flames haven't demonstrated any ability to lock down a lead. When ahead after the first period, they're 1-3-0 with the one victory coming in Vancouver, where they blew that early lead but were fortunate to come back and win in overtime.

Going hand-in-hand with that stat is Calgary's 1-4-0 record when scoring first. No other NHL team has lost that many games when striking first. One of the storylines last year was the Flames awful starts in that they rarely had a first period lead. Now that awfulness has shifted to the second period and has become an even bigger issue.

2. 0 Regulation Victories

Going nine games to open the season without a regulation win is the longest such stretch of futility for this club since the aforementioned late 90s. In some forgettable years from 1995 to 1999, where fixtures on the team included Cory Stillman, Phil Housley and Tommy Albelin, this type of thing became quite a habit as they had three abysmal starts in alternating years over a five-year span.

Longest stretches without a regulation win to start the season:
  • 20 games - 1999-00
  • 12 games - 1997-98
  • 11 games - 1995-96
  • 9 games - 2015-16

The interesting thing about 1999-00 is Calgary won five times over those 20 games -- all of them coming in overtime. What a weird start to the season that year as the Flames went 5-0-2 in extra time. For the nostalgic, scoring those OT goals were Valeri Bure, Derek Morris, Jeff Shantz, Albelin and Stillman.

3. 22 Points for Top Line, Same for Everybody Else

This is not breaking news that the Flames rely heavily on their top line. Led by 10 points for sophomore sensation Johnny Gaudreau, that line with Jiri Hudler and Sean Monahan have accounted for 22 points combined. Add up all other players on the roster, you also get 22 points.

It's been over 12 periods since the Flames last got a goal from a non-Gaudreau line. That was David Jones' power play goal halfway through the third period in a 5-2 loss ten days ago to the Edmonton Oilers.

In fact, Calgary has only gotten four even-strength goals from the other three lines all season.
  • Oct. 17 vs Edm, Jones scores (with Stajan, Ferland)
  • Oct. 16 at Wpg, Backlund scores (with Bennett, Frolik)
  • Oct. 13 vs Stl, Raymond scores (with Bennett, Frolik)
  • Oct. 13 vs Stl, Jones scores (with Stajan, Frolik) 

With Ottawa next up, it's interesting to note that it was a 4-2 victory over the Senators on November 14, 2014 that was the last time the Flames won a game in which they didn't get a single point from the top line. Scoring that night were Paul Byron, Markus Granlund, Josh Jooris and Lance Bouma. Including playoffs, Calgary has played 83 games since.

Right now, the formula for opposition teams is simple. Blank the top line and you'll beat the Flames. Limit the top line and you'll probably beat them.

4. Russell (-12) and Hamilton (-11), Both Bottom Two

You mean bottom two on the team? Nope, not just the team. We're talking about the bottom two in the entire NHL.

641. Nick Foligno CBJ, -9
641. Dalton Prout CBJ, -9
641. Cam Fowler ANA, -9
644. Dougie Hamilton, CGY, -11
645. Kris Russell CGY, -12

Plus/minus is not the be all and end all of stats, for sure. It can sometimes be misleading. Shot attempt percentage (SAT) factors in more than just goals and is ultimately a much better metric. That said, when you boil it down, being on the ice repeatedly for goals against is bad and this is happening a lot to these two players.

Over the last three games, Calgary has surrendered seven even-strength goals:
  • Russell has been on the ice for six
  • Hamilton has been on the ice for five

As the Flames highest paid player at $5.75 million, obviously more is expected out of Hamilton, whose tenure in Calgary has gotten off to an inauspicious start.

Note: Getting back to SAT, of 532 skaters with five or more games, Hamilton (45.82) ranks No. 400 in SAT% while Russell (42.26) ranks No. 485. So they're both better, but not that much better.

5. Sub .880 Save Percentages

The club's woes in net have been well documented to the point of ad nauseum. In the competition to be the Flames starter, it could be argued that nobody won the job and instead, in dispatching Karri Ramo to the AHL, they chose the least worst of the two in keeping Jonas Hiller.

Hiller responded with a great game against Detroit Friday, only to follow it up with more subpar goaltending against the Rangers on Sunday, which got him pulled in the third period.

There are 42 goalies with enough starts to qualify in NHL save percentage. Both of the veterans rank in the bottom seven.

35. Karri Ramo, .879
39. Jonas Hiller, .872

Enter Joni Ortio.

In his first start in 25 days, the Finnish rookie started off spectacularly Monday with 16 first period saves. He was finally beaten with six minutes left in the second period on shot No. 21 and that was a no-chancer from Mikhail Grabovski, set-up alone in the low slot for a one-timer. But the shine came off Ortio's game in the third as he surrendered three goals on 11 shots.

That said, add in his relief work the previous night and four goals on 40 shots for Ortio -- a .900 SV% -- while far from ideal, is not that bad in comparison to the other two, especially considering he was coming off such a long stretch of inactivity.

6. Goal Differential of -19

Two numbers that speak volumes -- 16 goals for, 35 goals against. Nothing is more unsustainable than giving up twice as many goals as you're scoring.

The woes for the Blue Jackets are well documented. Off to a 1-8-0 start, sorted by winning percentage they're the only team below Calgary in the NHL's overall standings. Columbus is also the only team worse than the Flames in goal differential but with Calgary closing fast.

Bottom three:

28. Anaheim, -14 (6 GF, 20 GA)
29. Calgary, -19 (16 GF, 35 GA)
30. Columbus, -21 (19 GF, 40 GA)

What's going on in Anaheim is even more bizarre than what's unfolding in Calgary. Who knew in the Pacific Division final last year that these two teams were destined to be the cellar dwellers in the Western Conference this season.

You know what they say, misery loves company.

7. 25th on the power play

When the offence is slumping, you need to take advantage of power plays to kick-start the offence. Unfortunately for the Flames, that isn't happening either. Sitting at 3-for-24 on the season, Calgary has gone 0-for-10 the last four games with the man advantage, only producing 10 shots on goal during that time.

It's these recent woes with the extra man that makes it all that much more puzzling why coach Bob Hartley chose to keep Jakub Nakladal in the press box on Monday night. On the second night of back-to-backs, with Ladislav Smid coming back from a stretch of nine months between games, that seemed like the perfect opportunity to insert Nakladal, who has looked very good quarterbacking the power play in the AHL. But instead, the Czech sat for the third straight game since his recall. Call it the Tyler Wotherspoon treatment.

Regular readers will be aware of how badly the Flames second power play unit in particular has struggled. It has now produced one goal in the last 47 games and that was the aforementioned Jones goal against the Oilers. Obviously that's not even close to good enough.

8. Backlund: 1 goal, 0 assists

Mikael Backlund has always been a polarizing player during his time with the Flames, and that was back when he was making less than a million and then $1.5 million each of the past two seasons.

Now, armed with a three-year deal that makes him the Flames fourth-highest paid forward at $3.6 million, the scrutiny of Backlund has increased and fairly.

With just one goal and one point on the season, Calgary needs more out of the veteran centre, who has only been on the ice for one Flames goal total and that was his goal on Oct. 16.

While he hasn't been gifted with the most talented of linemates for some games -- there are nights where you shrug your shoulders at the line combinations, he also has seen time in recent games with Michael Frolik and Sam Bennett and outside the top line, that's as top six-ish as it gets around here for linemates.

There is more to Backlund's game than his point total but for where he slots up the middle, especially when Bennett is on the wing and he's the clear No. 2 centre, there needs to be more production coming from him.

But he's far from alone. Mason Raymond, Joe Colborne, Micheal Ferland and Bennett also have just one point each. Regulars Matt Stajan, Josh Jooris and Brandon Bollig have yet to pick up a point. Frolik is still looking for his first goal.

Final Word

The one stat that really matters for this team is they're six points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Second and third spot in the Pacific Division belong to San Jose and LA with 10 points each. The Sharks and Kings each have a game in hand as well. Things are far from over yet, but the ascent does get steeper with every loss so Calgary needs to fix what's wrong fast and start producing more positive stats for us to reflect on.

If not, they'll tumble further the other direction and that leads to a different conversation. For example, if the season ended today, Calgary would have a 13.5 percent chance in the lottery of drafting first overall. I trust you've heard of Auston Matthews.

Again, it's far too early for that talk but seeing the impact Connor McDavid is already having up the highway, it's a discussion that will arrive sooner than later, especially if this team finds itself in the same dire situation come American Thanksgiving.

By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.


Recent Flames Reading


    1. Last year the Flames were playing to prove everyone wrong and this gave them a killer instinct that had not been seen in years. This year they have been playing to prove people right and the mental impact of this has clearly taken its toll on the team. An element of regression was expected this year as most things that could have gone right for this team last year did. I did not expect that they would forget how to play the game entirely

      1. Fair and accurate comments. There clearly is some mental baggage with this team right now the way things have began. You're right in that it's easier to play as the underdog. With no expectations, you can't fail so there's no reason to play tight yet there is a huge opportunity to prove people wrong and taking on the skeptics is what drove them last year. Expectations this year have become a burden, it seems.

        In terms of regression, again I agree. Regression in elements of the game were definitelyexpected. But that's not what we're seeing right now. We're seeing a team not dealing with adversity and playing poorly as a result. They haven't been unlucky, which was the evening out most expected, they're been plain old bad. That's different.

      2. I agree Darren, I'm an avid follower of your site and twitter account (@mhatata) and I just want to commend you for the comprehensive analysis you provide for us die hard fans.

        I have seen a few specific things that I believe are further amplifying the bad play and are a change from previous years:

        1) We have skill, we know we have skill now but the forwards are looking for the perfect play now because they know we can make some creative plays instead of simply shooting the puck. (ex; short-handed pass by Stajan that should have been a goal)
        This is why we have such low shots per game. We can enter the zone, we can cycle but a give-away later and you did nothing for a few minutes and didn't even register a shot on goal.

        2) When the Flames entered the zone last season, it seemed like 80% of the time, the person carrying the puck in would do a drop pass to the player behind him. This would allow for an immediate shot on net followed by someone crashing the net, providing for one if not two shots immediately. I have seen this play twice this season.

        3) With Brodie gone, we lost the same thing we lost when Phaneuf first got traded, the person who typically carried the puck up the ice for us is gone and our whole formation is off

        The above combined with poor goal tending I believe are the main reasons we are in this and I really do believe if we string a few wins, things will change but right now our best player was in class all summer (Gaudreau) and our 2nd best (Gio) is finally figuring things out after a lengthy injury. Whats the deal boys?

      3. Really need to separate Backlund and Frolik. They're a miserable duo because they're so similar right down to their muffin shots.

    2. I would like to point out that the two guys you pointed as "as top six-ish as it gets around here" have a combined total of zero goals. Don't rag on Backlund unfairly (and yes, you are being unfair). Even when Backlund isn't scoring he strongly contributes in other ways (which is more then I can say about most of the team right now).

      1. Look, I like Backlund, but let's get serious for a moment. He's making $3.6 million, has 1 point in 9 games (on pace for less than 10 points for the season). Can you honestly tell me that suggesting the team needs more production from him is being "unfair"? I can guarantee you that Backlund himself will tell you he needs to produce more. Let's keep things in perspective here.

      2. The we should get rid of that bum Bennett right... He's on pace to score zero goals! Same with that Ham-n-egger Frolik... on pace for zero goals! Matt Stajan... what a loser on pace for zero goals (and set to put us shorthanded for 128 minutes) clearly he's the worst human being on planet earth!

        If it wasn't obvious the above was in jest although I would recommend that you take your own advice and keep things in perspective here. By singling him out alone amoungst the forwards you are being unfair, the whole team is struggling and at least Backlund is only struggling in the boxscore department. There are plenty of others who are struggling in every facet of the game.

      3. The paragraph that begins "But he's far from alone..." and lists other players not producing was my acknowledgement that Backlund is not alone and that there are other players not producing. Enjoy the game tonight.

      4. So you title a section "Backlund" spend 5 paragraphs singling him out and then dump one paragraph at end devoted to 6 players and declare that "acknowledgement" and demonstative of you not being unfair? If you say so.

        I hope you enjoy the game as well. GFG

      5. Love your passion for Mikael Backlund, I really do. Know that despite how you've interpreted it, this wasn't an attack on Backlund. You may recall 18 months ago (May 2014 I believe) that I wrote a feature that he had all the skills to potentially be paid as much as $5 million AAV when he re-signed with the team last summer. Of course, his injury-shortened season ended up killing that possibility last year. But I do think he's capable of more right now and my opinion only, I've seen him play better.

        As for the title of the section and the quantity of paragraphs and yada, yada, yada, you're reading way too much into it. Always stick with one item/player in your lede, that's journalism 101, that's what I did. I could have picked anyone on that list but I chose Backlund and I think it's a fair choice at $3.6M, even though I know you think some of those others would have been better choices and have been more disappointing in your eyes. But just because I led with him, there's not a ratio of unhappiness that goes with that, he just was the lede. The others listed are right there with them, also not producing as I noted with their totals. Just because I didn't write five paragraphs about each of the others doesn't change that, it's just the way you write stories/sections when you have a list. Pick one to focus on, then add in the other names.

        Anyway, I trust you'll agree we've beaten this horse to death about 100 times over. If the Flames paid as much attention to detail in their defensive zone that we have spent dissecting these six paragraphs, they'd be 9-0-0 right now... and we wouldn't be having this conversation. Cheers.

      6. Heh, Cheers to you as well

    3. Agreed, speaking of salary vs. contribution

      Mason Raymond $3,150,000 - One Goal
      Dougie Hamilton $5,750,000 - One Goal
      Deryk Engelland $2,916,666 - 0 Points
      Kris Russell $2,600,000 - 0 Points
      Ladislav Smid $3,500,000 - 0 Points
      Matt Stajan $3,125,000 - 0 Points

    4. I think what is important is the long run... Even in your wildest dreams, the Flames weren't ready for a serious Cup chase this year. If Treliving is as smart as I think he is, guys like Backlund become very important to us as we stock the draft cupboard back up. A couple of top tens along with a legit shot at Matthews is exactly what we need. Monahan, Gaudreau, Bennett, Giordano, Brodie and now Hamilton will be about the only faces from this team you'll recognize when things get serious in a few more years.