Looking Forward: Steps to Success
2002-03Recipe for Success
April 16th, 2002
In a league where 38 wins and 92 points doesn't guarantee a playoff spot, the Calgary Flames will need to make significant improvements next season in order to participate in the post season.
There are requisite things that must be done this summer in order to make this happen. This includes signing Jarome Iginla before training camp, finding a backup goaltender, and adding some 2nd line scoring. All easier said than done, but not an impossible task.
But if there's one area for concern that could make or break the Flames 2002-03 season, it's the penalty kill. Calgary was tied for 27th in the league with an 81.4% kill percentage. For comparison sake, the elite teams in the league usually kill over 86% of their penalties.
This is bad news to begin with, but the Flames compounded this problem by leading the NHL with 483 minor penalties, and finding themselves shorthanded 356 times (9th worst in the league), while surrendering 66 goals.
What to do…
To be successful, the Flames need to set a goal to be in the Top 10 in Penalty Kill percentage (roughly 86%), and Top 10 in fewest times shorthanded (325 or less). Lofty goals given their performance this season, but certainly attainable due to the fact that penalty kill performance isn't necessarily reliant on talent, but more on hard-work, dedicated practice, and smart decision-making.
What kind of effect would achieving these goals have? If the Flames were shorthanded 325 times and killed off 86% of those penalties, they'd give up approximately 45 power play goals, an improvement of 21 over this past season. 21 fewer goals allowed would actually have given the Flames more goals scored than allowed this season (201 to 199).
Scoring more goals than you allow is vital to any team's performance. No team in 2001-02 attained 90 points or more without having a positive 'net goals' total. It's certainly not a guarantee for a playoff spot (ask Edmonton or Dallas), but it's a vital component to even being a contender.
The Flames are a few pieces away from being a playoff contender. Obviously, they need to ensure that everyone is healthy and signed come training camp, and ideally they need to bring in some additional scoring from 2nd and 3rd line players. However the area of special teams cannot be overlooked. Craig Button needs to ensure that the Flames have the personnel to kill penalties, while Greg Gilbert must be accountable for devising and practicing a strategy to become one of the better PK teams in hockey. 21 fewer goals allowed may not seem like a lot, but it could be the Flames' ticket to a playoff spot.