Calgary's 8-14-2 record to begin December leaves them tied with Edmonton for the lowest point total in the NHL. However, after losing 3-0 to Toronto on Monday, the Oilers have a secure grasp on last place (yet again) thanks to having played one additional game. They also have one fewer regulation/overtime win, which is the first standings tie-breaker.
Meanwhile, Arizona (13-9-1) occupies third place and the last playoff spot in the Pacific Division. The impressive Coyotes are on pace for 96 points. To get to 96 points by season's end, the Flames would have to go a ridiculous 37-17-4 over their final 58 games. Good luck with that.
Considering general manager Brad Treliving spent the summer upgrading a roster that made the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs last year, my first inclination is to say I can't imagine a worse start for the Flames. Except, I can. Their record could easily be worse right now.
Remember, we're talking about a team that has a 5-1 record in overtime. This is also a team that beat Edmonton in regulation on a fluke goal scored from behind the goal line with nine seconds remaining.
If they had gone 3-3 in OT instead and Cam Talbot doesn't give up that awful goal to Michael Frolik, they'd be at least three points back of the Oilers right now.
The Flames have three regulation wins in 24 games. Three! The Penguins, Devils and that aforementioned Edmonton great escape. Yikes.
Meanwhile, Calgary's first opponent of December -- Tuesday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome -- is the high-flying Dallas Stars, who lead the NHL with 19 wins -- 15 of them in regulation.
Dallas (19-5-0) owns the NHL's best record, percentage points ahead of Montreal (18-4-3). Jamie Benn (18-17-35), Tyler Seguin (13-21-34) and revelation John Klingberg (5-22-27) are all top five in NHL scoring for a Stars team that has scored 84 goals, which is second only to the Montreal Canadiens (87).
It's going to be a monumental task for the Flames to start off this five-game homestand on a winning note. But before we look forward, it's time to look back. How did Calgary sink to the depths they find themselves today?
Eight Stats that Speak Volumes
Here are eight categories in which Calgary ranks either last or second-last in the NHL. Each helps paint the picture as to why the Flames have struggled so badly to begin the year.
1. Record When Opponent Scores First
This Year: 1-8-1
Last Year: 20-22-4 (6th)
The Flames have scored first 14 times, which is tied for seventh in the league. Good thing they've been very good at getting that first goal because when they give up the first one, it's pretty much been game over. Nobody has a worse winning percentage than Calgary, which is at exactly .100. The massive drop-off from last year's winning percentage of .435 in the same scenario points to a team that struggles to overcome early adversity. Falling behind 1-0 is hardly a death sentence, but it's sure having that impact on the Flames. As well, that third period comeback magic from a year ago? That has vanished.
2. Record When Outshot
This Year: 1-12-0
Last Year: 26-17-1 (6th)
This speaks directly to the Flames goaltenders and their inability to steal the team a hockey game and that's something every team needs from time to time. Now the ultimate example of a steal would be Jonas Hiller last October when the Flames won 2-1 in Chicago despite being outshot 50-18. But it doesn't have to be that extreme. This year, even if Calgary is only outshot by one or two shots, they're still not getting any wins. Calgary's .077 winning percentage in this scenario is a long way back of 29th place Philadelphia (3-7-4, .214). Interestingly, Dallas is No. 1 at a perfect 11-0-0 when outshot. Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi are getting it done, supported of course by the Stars lethal offence.
3. Goal Differential
This Year: Minus-31
Last Year: Plus-25 (8th)
Minus 31. Yuck. But for fans, I doubt that number comes as a surprise. If this was The Weather Network, we could add in, "Feels like minus 50." Even without the windchill, that number is downright frightening. Consider that the Oilers are 16 goals better at minus-15. Calgary and Edmonton may have identical records but the Flames are getting blown out and the Oilers have been losing a lot of close games. It's a lot easier to turn one-goal losses into victories than three-goal losses. Ponder this. Nine times already Calgary has lost by three-or-more goals, something they did only 11 times all of last season.
4. Five-on-Five Goals Against
This Year: 60
Last Year: 154 (19th)
Calgary has demonstrated that they're really proficient at 3-on-3. However, that's an overtime gimmick unique to the regular season. For long-term success, they're going to need to get a lot better at defending at five-on-five because in case you haven't noticed, that's where a vast majority of games are played at. The Flames are one of only two teams to give up 50 or more goals (Edmonton, 54) at five-on-five and and it speaks to Calgary's poor defensive play all season combined with its mediocre goaltending.
5. Power Play
This Year: 13.4%
Last Year: 18.8% (13th)
This isn't the old days. There aren't eight or nine goals in a game anymore. The average is a lot closer to five. A key to winning in this era is execution on special teams. It's imperative that teams take advantage of their power plays when they get them as it can be tough slogging out there at five-on-five. An efficient PP can give a team a big goal early that gives them the lead and puts them in control. It can also help get a team a crucial tying goal late in the game to turn a game around. Calgary has scored just once in its last 22 power plays going back to November 12. On the season, only the Carolina Hurricanes (12.5%) have been worse. That's just not good enough.
6. Penalty Kill
This Year: 70.8%
Last Year: 80.6% (20th)
Last year the Flames weren't great on the PK. At just over 80 percent, they were essentially in the bottom third of the league. Yet, if Calgary could have killed off penalties this year even at that rate of effectiveness, that would have resulted in six fewer PP goals against so far and depending what circumstances those came in, a portion likely would have been momentum-altering and result-altering. Think about the game in Anaheim last Tuesday. Flames led 2-0 when the Ducks score on the power play to get back into the game. Then tied 3-3 in the third, Anaheim scores the game-winning goal on the man advantage. In the last 10 games, Calgary is 12-for-21, an abysmal 57.1 percent.
7. Wins by Two-or-More Goals
This Year: 1
Last Year: 26 (6th)
The only so-called convincing victory this season was against Pittsburgh, which was a 5-2 final and that was including an empty net goal by Johnny Gaudreau. Nobody else in the NHL has less than three wins of a margin of two-or-more goals. This points to a team lacking killer instinct and that ability when they take the lead to step on a team's throat and put them away. Proof is this confounding stat. The Flames have taken a lead in a game 20 times this season and they've blown that lead 17 times. Only three times have they hung onto the lead for the remainder of the game -- and again, one was that game in Edmonton where they only had to hang on for nine seconds. Trying to eek out wins every single night is no recipe for sustainable success as we've seen all season.
8. Save Percentage
This Year: .884
Last Year: .915 (14th)
It's been the talking point all season with the luxury of having three good goalies quickly morphing into the burden of having three bad goalies. Lately, Karri Ramo experienced a resurgence with improved play over 12 straight starts improving his save percentage from .868 to .899. However, that still leaves him 39th among 46 goalies, who have enough playing time to qualify. The worst offender has been Jonas Hiller, who ranks dead last with an .856 and he's way, way back of the pack. You may want to cover your eyes for this listing of the NHL's bottom eight as of the end of November.
39. Karri Ramo CGY, .899
40. Cam Ward CAR, .898
41. Brian Elliott STL, .898
42. Cam Talbot EDM, .889
43. Jonathan Bernier TOR, .888
44. Semyon Varlamov COL, .887
45. Eddie Lack CAR, .874
46. Jonas Hiller CGY, .856
That's a whole lot of statistical ugliness and most concerning for the organization is it covers almost all aspects of the game. This team doesn't need to work only on one or two areas, they need to get better everywhere and fast if they are clinging even to the faintest hope that they can get back into playoff contention.
More practically if things don't take a turn for the better immediately, the next statistic fans are going to start dwelling over are the NHL Draft Lottery percentages. For those already with their eyes affixed on the much-hyped Auston Matthews, let me add in this cruel little reminder that while the 30th place team does have the best odds of winning the lottery (20 percent), there's also an 80 percent chance that another team wins it and jumps to first pick.
Plus this year with the new lottery rules kicking in, the first three picks in the draft all be determined via lottery so the last place team could drop as far down as fourth pick. So that's bound to result in plenty of angst, but we'll save that for another day. With a pile of unrestricted free agents (Hiller, Ramo, Jiri Hudler, Kris Russell, David Jones), the more pressing discussion is what happens with them with the volume on that debate sharply increasing if Calgary continues to stumble on home ice over the next couple weeks.
Who knows, maybe the next time we look at some stats, it will be the odds of each of those UFAs being in a Flames uniform beyond the trade deadline. Depending on where you're at, some of you may look at that as finally a dose of good news.
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- Markus Granlund and the Risks of Giving him the Marty St. Louis Treatment - Scoring stars in the minors, used as fourth line players in the NHL, there is a similarity to how Granlund's career has begun and how St. Louis' time went in Calgary. (Nov. 28, 2015)
- So Close, Yet So Far Away: Ortio's Career Takes a Humbling Turn for the Worse: In a fitting exclamation mark to a truly terrible 48 hours for Ortio, he got lit up for four goals on 12 shots on Friday. Unclaimed on waivers, maybe he simply isn't that good. (Nov. 27, 2015)
- At the Quarter Mark and After Thumping Chicago, Eight Reasons for Fans to Smile: After an impressive win over the defending Stanley Cup champions on Friday, the Flames find themselves in a much better spot with 61 games still to go. (Nov. 21, 2015)
- TJ Brodie's Rapid Rise to Becoming One of the NHL's Most Dynamic Defencemen: TJ Brodie wasn't even sure if he'd be drafted. Now he's one of the most exciting young defencemen in the NHL. Brodie talks about his career to date. (Nov. 18, 2015)