Stat Hack: What’s Wrong With the Flames?

November 19th, 2019 | Posted in Commentary | By: D'Arcy McGrath

This year’s first installment of the Stat Hack; a quick story looking to drill down into a specific area, delves into the obvious question in town – What the hell is wrong with the Calgary Flames?

The quick answer? Everything!

Or at least, almost everything.

Team 5 on 5 Stats

When you run down a list of metrics for the Flames you’ll see a slide or leak in almost every single category, some more pronounced than others.

The chart to the left summarizes how the club is playing.

Red is good, blue is bad. The first column is this season, the next last year as a whole, and finally last year through 23 games.

The Flames are generating less shot attempts and shots, while giving up more of both, leaving them a positive possession team and shot share, but nowhere near to the extent they were last season.

Expected goals against is up a touch over last season as a whole, but actually better than they saw through 23 games last year. Expected goals for has cratered no matter what term you compare it to, down an average of a 1/4 goal per game.

Scoring chances against are right between the two comparables, and not really the problem, but once again it’s the team’s inability to generate chances that is glaring, as the team is down 2 per game vs the entire season, and almost 3 per game compared to last season’s start.

One of the only areas in shot metrics that the team has improved is high danger chances against, where this year they’re only allowing 9.7 per 60 compared to last year’s 10.3, and last season’s atrocious start where they gave up 12.2 per 60 minutes. This gain is negated by a larger margin in what they’re generating however, as the club is down 2 high danger chances for per game.

Shooting Percentages

The bottom section of the chart highlights how the team has faired in converting high, medium and low danger shot attempts. Look at the cliff the team has fallen off when looking at high danger shot attempt conversions (thanks Kent Wilson)! Sitting at 12.4% compared. On the other side of the puck, Calgary goaltenders are only stopping 78% of the high danger chances compared to 83% and 85% respectively.

High danger PDO (combination) has Calgary at .903 which is simply terrible. Last year this stat measured 1.036 on the season as a whole, and 100.6 in the first 23 games. If you want to point to career seasons and the effect it’s having on the team this is a good one to zero in on. The average team finished with 17.1% conversion rate on high danger chances, Calgary was 3 points north of that on the season, and now almost 5 points south.

The team’s overall PDO at .974 is 28th overall, suggesting that at least some degree of puck luck is playing a factor in the results.

What About the Players?

The team can’t finish, the offence is drying up and it’s tough to win when you’re not scoring any goals right? (Peters prose). But what about the players? What players are contributing the most to the team’s lack of offence; that is, what player is sliding the most compared to metrics from last season?

The table to the left moves through a variety of key stats for Calgary’s big five forwards.

At the top are simple goals and points per 60 summaries, looking at each player vs last season and their career. Then it gets into shots, expected goals and stats that show how many looks they’re getting per game.

Johnny Gaudreau

By far the player struggling the most compared to both last season and his career both in terms of actual results, and the generation of chances.

Gaudreau is down 3/4 of a goal per 60, and 1.45 points per 60.

But he’s also taking 1.76 less shots per 60, and with that has seen his expected goal/60 slide by almost 1/3 of a goal.

In terms of chances he’s generating 2.6 less scoring chances and 2.4 less high danger chances per 60 minutes. His numbers are bad, but so too is his overall offensive game so the numbers actually make sense.

This isn’t bad luck.

Sean Monahan

Sean Monahan has similar declines in production, but that’s where the similarity stops.

Monahan is actually shooting the puck more, not less, and generating more scoring chances per 60 (+.7) and high danger chances (+.3) than last season. As a result his expected goals for is actually slightly up from last season.

Monahan is a finisher, and he’s getting the looks. The puck will starting going in … that’s pretty bankable.

Elias Lindholm

Lindholm is up in goals, but down in points per 60, but clearly not the problem compared his linemates.

He has a mixed bag of underlying individual stats as he’s generating more individual scoring chances, but less of the high danger variety. As a result his expected goals per game is down about 1/5 of a goal per 60 minutes.

He’s not the problem.

Matthew Tkachuk

Though off to a decent start, Matthew Tkachuk is down both in goals per 60 and points per 60 compared to last season.

His regular and high danger scoring chance metrics are almost identical, and his expected goals for is also pretty tight to last year’s numbers.

He is shooting the puck more this year.

Mikael Backlund

The only post apex player of the group, Mikael Backlund has a mixed bag of results as well.

His production both in goals and points has tailed off to the degree of both Gaudreau and Monahan, but his underlying numbers suggest he’s actually creating more and getting a lot of great looks.

Backlund’s expected goals for is actually up this season, and so to is his scoring chance and high danger chance generation.

He looks more snake bit than anything.

The Top Line

As a whole the team has some improvements defensively, but is woeful offensively as discussed.

A drill down shows two players getting what they should be in Lindholm and Tkachuk, two players that have been snake bitten and could be the poster children for an expected normalization of results in Monahan and Backlund leaving of course the big issue in Johnny Gaudreau.

The guy is off.

Is it the player himself, or the league having figured him out is the question. A question that needs to be answered soon if the team doesn’t want to end up the alter ego to the 2014-15 team that made the playoffs and won a round despite having terrible numbers.

This next stretch should be telling.

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