HomeHomeWhat’s behind Calgary’s struggles, and why better days are ahead

What’s behind Calgary’s struggles, and why better days are ahead

Heading into this season, the Calgary Flames were among a handful of teams widely considered to be a Cup contender. They were excellent the season before – winning the Pacific Division going away – and some considered their off-season moves to have left them an improved version of that team.

As things currently stand on Tuesday, Nov. 8, they’re third in the Pacific in points percentage (and fifth in raw points), they haven’t won a hockey game since Oct. 25, and they own a minus-two goal differential. They blew a two-goal third period lead to the Islanders on Monday, and so yeah, you get the picture; they’re scuffling.


Even with the hugely important caveat that their D-corps is injured and they’re playing some defenders in spots they’d rather not, there’s reason to be positive about their lineup. Namely they carry numerous talented players, guys who can play physical, and guys who, at their best, excel in every roster spot. There’s enough there to have the success of last year, and I think it’s important to note that.

But in watching them, the hockey seems one-and-done both ways. They don’t create a ton of chances and, when they do, they come and go and the play’s going back the other way without much fanfare or sustained pressure. They don’t give up much either, so it all seems like a slog until there’s a breakdown and something goes in a net … often the wrong way right now.

In the Flames case that’s happening more than they’d expect, as they have two very good goalies (in theory), yet only five teams have a worse combined team save percentage.

So let’s start there. Calgary’s D is hurt and they need some saves. “Occam’s razor,” which is to say, sometimes the simplest explanation is the right one.  

Beyond that though…


Every team gets a few new players to start each season, so we take no pity on a group that has to get used to that. But it’s different when the core of a team is uprooted, and with Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk out – and Nazem Kadri, Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar in – this is a team that could’ve used some bonding time, and some softer games to get things up and running.

Instead, they had an eight-game home stand before they’ve had a chance to really get to know one another. But bigger than that, they’ve had the most challenging strength of schedule in the NHL to date, based on opponent (via Power Rankings Guru). You can quibble with whether or not it’s been the “hardest” as the site claims, but the point is they’ve faced very good opponents.

Via that same website, the Flames supposedly have the “easiest” schedule remaining in the NHL (though those “easy” games don’t appear for a while yet). Let’s not over-think these two points except to say the schedule Gods didn’t toss Calgary a softball out of the gates this season.

.acf-block-preview .br-snippet {
display: grid;
grid-template-columns: 200px 1fr;
gap: 20px;
width: 100%;
margin: 0 auto;
padding: 16px;
border: 1px solid #CECECE;
background-color: #FFF;
border-radius: 4px;
.acf-block-preview .br-snippet-info a {
text-decoration: none;
.acf-block-preview .br-snippet-info .br-snippet-title {
color: #343434;
font-family: ‘roboto’;
font-size: 20px;
font-weight: 600;
line-height: 22px;
margin-bottom: 10px;
top: -3px;
.acf-block-preview .br-snippet-info .br-snippet-body {
color: #343434;
font-family: ‘urw-din’;
font-size: 16px;
line-height: 20px;
margin-bottom: 12px;
.acf-block-preview .br-snippet-info .br-snippet-link-title {
display: inline-block;
font-family: ‘urw-din’;
font-size: 16px;
list-style-type: none;
width: auto;
.acf-block-preview .br-snippet-info .br-snippet-link-title:not(:last-child):after {
content: ‘ | ‘;
color: #343434;


The Flames defence is not the area that needs digging into. They give up the fifth-fewest shots against per game, yet they’re 22nd in goals against per game, at least partially because of what was mentioned above – the goaltending. Their expected goals against is fine, too (12th).

But the offence … it looks OK, at least with surface numbers. They’re third in the NHL in shots per game, firing over 37 on average. That’s obviously excellent.

Yet they haven’t been able to turn those shots into goals, sitting just in the middle of the pack (16th) in goals for per game, at 3.18 (with an expected goals of 3.58, ninth-best in the league).

So, is it just a combination of a bad save percentage and unlucky shooting percentage that has them with a minus-two goal differential?

A little, and those things will improve. But flatly, I say no. It isn’t just that.

This is a team without chemistry thus far, which bears out in the passing stats. Everything is extremely Darryl Sutter: get the puck up and in, shoot it when you’ve got a shot, keep it simple. There’s no passing, no one-touches or slips or cohesion, which doesn’t always result in more goals (or even expected goals, statistically), but it does result in having the puck, not having to play defence and tiring out your opposition while you dictate the play.

The Flames keep poor company in terms of total pass attempts per game in the offensive zone, sitting 25th in the league at even strength. They don’t move it much.

Screen Shot 2022 11 08 at 4.39.58 PM

They’re dead last in pass attempts off the rush per game, attempting significantly fewer than the team below them.

Screen Shot 2022 11 08 at 4.40.55 PM

They’re second-last in attempted east-west passes in the offensive zone (and tied for last in successful east-west passes per game):

Screen Shot 2022 11 08 at 4.41.51 PM

So they don’t move it off the rush, east-to-west-, or much at all really.

And would you look at that, if you don’t use your teammates and make plays, you spend an awful lot of time trying to get pucks back so you can go take another one-and-done shot. You don’t get to stay on the fun third of the rink. In terms of puck possession time in the O-zone, the Flames are keeping dubious company:

Screen Shot 2022 11 08 at 4.43.10 PM

Darryl Sutter teams are always going to play a certain way, but these numbers are far worse than last season. Even in the areas where they show OK, they showed better the season prior. In 2021-22 the Flames were third in successful pass attempts to the slot (and seventh in attempts) — this year they’re 14th (and 12th in attempts).

Because they’re so one-and-done on offence – shooting pucks as the priority over hanging on and moving it around – and the fact that they defend well, the Flames spend the third-most time in the league in the neutral zone, just constantly trying to get in, or to get out, while never really settling in for dominating shifts.

As I’ve implied, most of what has made the Flames good in recent years is still there. Last year they were sixth overall in loose puck recoveries, and this year they’re fifth. That allows you to lose possession when you take “meh” shots and get enough cracks to still generate “offence,” which is why their goals, expected goals and all that look OK.

But all the above says to me is this: the lines don’t know each other’s tendencies, or they don’t trust each other enough yet, or they’re just choosing to err on the side of caution (by taking the simple plays and unthreatening shots) rather than fall into Sutter’s bad books early in their time in Calgary. It both looks like, and shows up statistically, that they don’t use each other much. It’s a weird stat – it sounds like a criticism of a minor hockey game – but the Flames just don’t pass the puck much.

What’s interesting, is this is a much more accepted criticism in basketball, where “ball movement” and “spacing” are critical pieces of creating better looks for teammates. As it stands, the Flames could use a little NBA influence. The puck is dying on sticks out there with too many isolation plays, and not enough movement.

There’s reason to believe in the Flames. They’re headed on the road, where some good bonding can happen. They’ll get to know one another more on the ice, too. The schedule should get easier. The goaltending should get better, and more shots should, in theory, start going in. So while it looks like they’re scuffling right now, there’s reasons to believe better days are ahead.

Source link



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Popular

Recent Comments