Losers of six straight games, the numbers game has finally caught up to the Calgary Flames.
Let’s not mistake this for grave dancing. It’s anything but. What it is, however, is yet another example of a team playing over their collective heads simply coming back to earth. And though the Flames may still be able to right the ship and fight for a playoff spot, it’s far more likely that the slide will continue and the team will simply start playing sub-.500 hockey. After all, it’s what has been coming all along.
Breaking down the Flames incredible run into subsections of the season paints a picture of a team that was getting all the breaks. They were pesky, hard to put away, and somehow managed to score so many timely goals that you had to wonder if their season was a Disney production.
From the beginning of the season, Oct. 8, until the end of October, the Flames played 12 games. Over that time, their 5-on-5 Corsi For was 42.9 percent, they began only a hair more than 40 percent of their shifts in the offensive zone, and had the best goaltending they’ve had for any period since. The tandem of Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo posted a .929 even-strength save percentage, the tenth highest mark in the league to that point. The Flames roared off to a 6-4-2 start.
But the same goaltending that propelled them to a great start fell apart in the first two weeks of November. Though the Flames increased their possession numbers – their Corsi For was 45.8 at even strength – Hiller and Ramo struggled to the tune of an .887 SP at 5-on-5, the worst mark in the league. Yet during the seven games from Nov. 1-15, Calgary went 5-2. All they needed to do to mask their goaltending deficiencies was shoot out the lights.
And over those two weeks in November, no team in the league shot at a higher rate. The Flames scored on 13.3 percent of their 5-on-5 shots. If there’s any way to recover from poor goaltending, that’s it. It was entirely unsustainable, and during the two weeks that followed, the Flames began to slow down.
The slow down, from Nov. 15-30, went much like the first month of the season, and the Flames record over the six-game span was 4-2. Hiller and Ramo leveled out to a .926 SP, the shooting cooled down to 6.5, and the team’s PDO – a measure of shooting percentage and save percentage that should float around 100 – sat at a respectable 99.1, quite the juxtaposition considering the 103.1 and 102 marks the team had between Oct. 8-30 and Nov. 1-15, respectively.
But now, that PDO total, which generally can predict a team’s future, is sitting where most expected it to all season. From Dec. 1 to present, the team has a PDO of 96.5, a 5-on-5 shooting percentage of 6.6, and .899 SP. It should suggest the Flames can only go up from here, but that goes without saying about a team that has lost six straight.
What is strange, however, is that the Flames have possessed the puck more than opponents during this stretch, posting a Corsi For of 50.3. It’s done little to help the cause, though, as the team has gone 2-6 over the eight-game stretch dating back to Dec. 1.
The issue for the Flames isn’t, and never will be, compete level or grit or toughness or anything of that kind. What the issue is going to be, especially on a young team that’s all learning to grow as one unit, is consistency. A shooting percentage that was well over league average just one month ago has fallen into the bottom tenth of the league during their current two-week stretch.
The other issue, whether it was expected or not, is the volatile goaltending. Hiller and Ramo, though they stood on their heads during the season’s opening month, have been extremely up and down since. A young, inexperienced team with goaltending that can’t cover them when they make the inevitable mistake is a recipe for disaster.
But this is what the Flames were expected, and likely will continue, to do. They’re a team that gets out-possessed on most nights while having only a few players that can offer them quick strike offense with much of their scoring coming from the blueline. Their current six-game slide has been coming since the beginning of the season, but it’s just now that the underlying numbers finally caught up. With a 5-on-5 PDO of 100.6 and sitting a mere three games over .500 this is the Calgary we should come to expect from here on out.
It was never that the Flames were winning that was the issue. It was how they were doing it. It was incomprehensible, but, boy, was it exciting. Sadly, though, this current run seems like the beginning of a second half that isn’t going to be so kind in Cowtown.