The Calgary Flames just completed their longest road trip of the season, playing six games in nine nights in the Eastern Conference. With a record of 3-2-1, the Flames earned seven of a possible 12 points and return home one game closer to the .500 mark than when they left.
Three things jumped out at me during Calgary’s excursion, two negative and one positive.
Prior to the trip, I ballparked seven points as the minimum for this trip to be considered a success. By that gauge, then, I guess I have to declare the last six game stretch at least somewhat successful. Unfortunately, my main takeaway from this most recent trip isn’t a positive one which is where we’ll start. Remember, these are just my three biggest observations, which means things like the play of Chad Johnson and the 3M line (both positive) aren’t included.
A disturbing trend
As the Flames return home, they do so riding a downward trend in their play. After starting the trip with an impressive 3-2 victory in Detroit, Calgary’s game slipped dramatically for the following five games. As a whole, the Flames spent way too much time defending on the road and relied heavily on the aforementioned Johnson far too often.
The backwards trend is actually a little surprising, or at the very least disappointing. Prior to these last five games, the Flames looked like maybe they were turning a corner. Calgary had played three straight really solid games against Arizona, Chicago, and then Detroit and were, while winning twice, somewhat unfortunate not to have taken all three.
But after a brutal outing in Buffalo, the Flames weren’t able to get things back on track in their overall game the rest of the trip. From a possession standpoint, they finished underwater in three of six games, but more disturbing was their work prior to the third period. Calgary’s final possession numbers and their totals after two periods are compiled below. All stats in this piece come courtesy of hockeystats.ca.
So while the Flames finished on the right side of the possession ledger three times on the trip, they had to use score effects twice to push them over the top. To see them in the red after two periods in their last five games is certainly an alarming trend that needs to stop soon.
Taking a look at scoring chances doesn’t paint a rosier picture. In fact, depending on how you look at things, it might make things worse. Calgary was out-chanced in all six of their games on the road and only finished ahead in the even strength count on Monday night in New York thanks to a solid third period.
The fact the Flames won two of their final five games and took points in three of them is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, Calgary is desperate for points and getting them in any fashion is crucial. On the flip side, continuing to lose the possession and scoring chance battle is going to catch up to them in a big way sooner rather than later.
The good news is the three games they played prior to Buffalo. As I mentioned above, Calgary’s work in three straight games against the Coyotes, Blackhawks, and Red Wings was positive, so we know they’re capable of it. About to enter the month of December, the Flames need to figure out how to make games like those the norm.
Monahan’s play has been a huge topic all season long, but it seemed to really come to a head over the last six games. Despite scoring a huge third period goal to help salvage a point on Monday night, Monahan was ineffective at best and detrimental at worst for a large portion of the trip.
From a counting perspective, Monahan’s goal in Brooklyn was the only point he recorded on the road and was just his third point over a larger 10 game portion. Monahan isn’t scoring right now and he’s not getting the job done in other areas, either. Taking a look at the six games he played on the road paints a pretty clear picture of Monahan’s struggles.
Unfortunately, what you see above is a microcosm of Monahan’s season as a whole. Just twice on the road trip Monahan finished with a possession rate higher than his offensive zone start ratio. To contrast, Mikael Backlund and Matt Stajan outperformed their zone starts in five of the six games on the trip. To make matters worse, Monahan’s poor decision making has lead to far too many scoring chances and goals against.
I don’t know what’s going on with Monahan. He has completely fallen off a cliff this season and he’s been one of the team’s least effective forwards. This would be concerning even without a recent big money contract extension, but his new $44.625 million deal makes it all the more alarming. Let’s hope Monahan’s strong third period on Monday resulting in an important goal is a sign of things to come.
The penalty kill
Now to the positive stuff! Yes, that’s correct, I’m linking Calgary’s penalty kill and the word “positive” in the same sentence and I’m doing it with a straight face. The Flames actually made some strides in this area on this most recent road trip and hopefully it’s a sign of things to come.
Obviously Calgary was shelled by the Sabres on the PK last Monday night, but if you remove that game and its unfortunate 1:41 sequence, the numbers look really good. Minus the forgettable effort in Buffalo, the Flames killed off 20 of 21 penalties on the road for a 95.2% success rate.
Obviously, you can’t totally eliminate what happened against the Sabres; as such, I present to you their 94.7% success rate in the four games since that night. To make their work look more impressive, Calgary was able to silence the league’s two top powerplays in Columbus and Philadelphia while adding to the woes of teams like New York and Detroit.
From a visual standpoint, the Flames look to be making things far more difficult on opposing powerplay units, specifically on their zone entry. By my eye, Calgary has done a nice job of pressuring the opposing puck carrier at the defensive blueline and forcing quick decisions.
Down low, the Flames also seem far more instinctive when finding an outlet pass when an automatic clear isn’t there. As such, it’s made it more difficult for opposing defencemen to hold the line on a desperate clearing attempt. Instead, Calgary has bought themselves an extra second or two which helps ensure a clean clear and a line change.
Mike Fail has done a much better job of meticulously tracking the Flames on the PK, but at least by my eye in real time, they look far more effective. Certainly the numbers would suggest Calgary’s kill is coming along which is a positive regardless. At 76.8% through 25 games, it’s going to take a while for the Flames to dig out of their statistical hole, but it looks to be heading in the right direction.