Digging into the Flames’ power play struggles

Updated: November 10, 2016 at 8:00 am by Ryan Pike

Special teams were a big focus for the Calgary Flames over the past couple of days of practice, and for good reason. In short? Their special teams haven’t been very good this season. Their power play has scored four goals this season in 48 opportunities. For context, six National Hockey League players have scored as many PP goals as the Flames and another, Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine, has more.

Let’s drill into what the Flames aren’t doing with the extra man.

TEAM STATISTICS

  • Corsi For / 60: 81.87 (4th last)
  • Fenwick For / 60: 65.21 (7th last)
  • Shots For / 60: 45.1 (7th last)
  • Goals For / 60: 2.78 (2nd last)
  • Scoring Chances For / 60: 25.67 (3rd last)
  • High Danger Chances For / 60: 15.29 (9th last)

As you can see, when you adjust for the amount of time the Flames have had on the power play (with these rate statistics), they’re bottom-third in the NHL in every single PP category. That’s consistent with the “eye test,” which says they haven’t been particularly dangerous with the extra man.

    INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

    Player TOI/GP CF/60 FF/60 SF/60 GF/60 SCF/60 HDCF/60
    Giordano 3:43 79.46 64.49 46.07 2.30 25.34 17.27
    Monahan 3:26 87.29 67.34 47.38 2.49 23.69 13.72
    Gaudreau 3:23 87.13 68.19 47.98 2.53 25.25 15.15
    Brouwer 3:18 90.78 68.73 46.69 2.59 25.94 14.27
    Hamilton 3:07 80.88 63.06 43.87 1.37 26.05 19.19
    Wideman 2:46 100.30 86.75 59.64 8.13 29.82 10.84
    Backlund 2:23 76.98 64.45 41.17 3.58 23.27 12.53
    Bennett 2:21 72.76 60.03 36.38 3.64 18.17 7.28
    Brodie 2:15 81.43 60.60 41.66 3.79 24.62 9.47
    Tkachuk 1:57 66.48 56.25 35.80 2.56 17.90 10.23
    Versteeg 1:25 62.91 59.42 38.45 0.0 17.48 13.98

    The best of the regular PP rotation in generating scoring chances is Wideman, Hamilton, Brouwer, Giordano and Gaudreau. If you set the bar at high danger chances, it’s Hamilton, Giordano, Gaudreau, Brouwer and Versteeg.

    THEY SAID IT

    Following Wednesday’s lengthy practice, Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan had a few thoughts about the power play.

    “One of the things you look for is some consistency at this level,” said Gulutzan. “We’re gonna put these units together, we’re going to keep them together for a while. We’re going to give them seven games, barring any injury or anything like that, to get going.”

    Gulutzan mentioned that the composition of the PP units is related to the team’s approach with the extra man.

    “Well, we put our young guys together,” said Gulutzan. “Gio’s still the quarterback of that power play, he’s the back end, the other two guys are flanks and we’re going to focus a lot on shooting the pucks from the flanks and getting guys in front of the net, and that’s not any different from anyone else is doing in the league. The second unit there, we’ve got with Backs and Brodes and Dougie the same thing, we want to do the exact same thing; put pucks in the net. But the biggest thing is we want competition between those two units. I’m not rolling out one out before the other. They can fight it out and see who’s executing. And we’ve also got a third unit on the way, as well. If it’s not getting done, or if it’s getting done the way it’s getting done now, we’re gonna go a different direction.”

    In the first part of the season, a common criticism of the Flames’ power play was they weren’t able to enter the offensive zone and get set up. Gulutzan observed that the Flames have pushed through that obstacle, but still have some challenges in establishing pressure in the offensive zone.

    “Early on it was our entries that weren’t very good, but if you look at the last three or four games our entries have been way above the league average of getting in, now we’re just not creating enough shots or getting enough rebounds,” said Gulutzan. “So we put some retrieval plans in place here that were in place, but we went over them again. One of the biggest things is just shot and net presence. If you break down a power play, it’s shot and net presence and winning battles, it’s not any different than your five on five.”

    Flames winger Troy Brouwer, a fixture on the power play, agreed with his coach’s assessment. He noted a focus on getting quality shots that hit the net and create rebound chances rather than rattling shots off the glass that roll out of the zone and force the team to regroup.

    “We’ve been talking about shots missing the net, and when you miss the net you have no opportunity to retrieve it,” said Brouwer.
    “Just how the PP is established, with the guys down on the sides, when
    that shot goes off the glass there’s absolutely no way to get it until
    you’re picking it out of your end. And so we have to do a more conscious
    job of hitting the net, and when we do hit the net it makes their PK
    turn and then they get scramble-y and that’s when we can create
    opportunities.”

    Overall, Gulutzan had a pretty simple assessment for what he needs his PP to be: a source of energy.

    “You don’t want your PP to be a buzzkill, is really what you don’t want it to be,” said Gulutzan. “You’re not going to score every time. It’s almost like baseball: if you’re a .300 hitter, you’re a great hitter. If you get two out of 10 power plays you score a goal, you’ve got a good power play. So you can’t get frustrated, but what you need to do is generate chances and keep energy when you do get a power play. That feeds your top guys. You might not get a goal on the power play, but they feel like they’ve had a few chances on the power play, they’ll get one five on five. All that kind of works together. We need to create more chances and keep the buzz with us.”