Are the Flames too reliant on special teams for scoring?

Updated: January 31, 2017 at 10:00 am by Ryan Pike

This season, Calgary Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan has a common refrain in post-game press conferences. Whether his club wins or loses, Gulutzan frequently notes that the key to winning in the National Hockey League is winning the special teams battle.

It’s probably no coincidence then that the Flames began their resurgence (and their climb up the Western Conference standings) when their power play began scoring and their penalty kill became more adept at avoiding goals against. It’s nice to see, because the Flames have been one of the least potent offensive clubs in the NHL when playing at even strength.

But are the Flames too reliant on special teams for scoring? And which players aren’t pulling their weight offensively?

Where does the team sit?

Through the Flames’ first 52 games of the season, they’ve scored an average of 1.712 even strength goals per game. That places them ahead of only Buffalo, Florida, Arizona, New Jersey and Colorado in terms of even strength goals for. They’re 25th in the NHL in scoring in that situation.

So, they don’t score a lot at even strength. But they don’t give up a ton at even strength, either.

In the same span, the Flames allowed 1.988 even strength goals per game (on average). That’s more than they’re scoring, but it’s below the league-average mark (and seems to indicate that the Flames are better than average at goal prevention). If the Flames can avoid getting lit up like they did on their last stretch of games before the All-Star Break, their goals against at even strength should creep to being well above average.

So while they’re somewhat reliant on special teams to provide them with enough goals to win games, they’ve quietly been an average (to slightly average) defensive team in the NHL in terms of preventing goals.

How does this look on an individual basis? Are the Flames that are scoring or preventing goals the players you would expect to be able to keep it up?

Who’s good at scoring?

The five best regulars on the team at Goals For per 60 minutes of even strength ice time:

  1. Matthew Tkachuk
  2. Mikael Backlund
  3. Michael Frolik
  4. Mark Giordano
  5. Dougie Hamilton

Four out of the five leading Scoring Chances For per 60 players are represented in the top five in Goals For. The odd man out? Johnny Gaudreau, who has been snake-bit this year. Sean Monahan is sixth in Scoring Chances For, Troy Brouwer is 12th and Sam Bennett is 14th. Gaudreau is generating chances and not burying them. The other guys just aren’t doing enough to be among the leaders here.

Who’s bad at scoring?

The five worst regulars on the team at Goals For per 60 minutes of even strength ice time:

  1. Freddie Hamilton
  2. Micheal Ferland
  3. Lance Bouma
  4. T.J. Brodie
  5. Sam Bennett

The overlap between the bottom five in Goals For per 60 and Chances For per 60 is two men. Garnet Hathaway and bottom pairing stalwarts Jyrki Jokipakka and Deryk Engelland don’t generate chances, but score at a higher rate than Ferland, Brodie and Bennett – who are all middling at generating chances.

Who’s good at preventing goals?

The five best regulars on the team at Goals Against per 60 minutes of even strength ice time:

  1. Garnet Hathaway
  2. Freddie Hamilton
  3. Matt Stajan
  4. Deryk Engelland
  5. Matthew Tkachuk

Pucks just don’t go in very often against the fourth line guys, and that’s a true reflection of their low Scoring Chances Against rates. Stajan and Hathaway are top five in preventing chances. A nice thing to see? Tkachuk appearing both as a leader in generating goals (and chances) for and in suppressing goals (and chances) against. He’s good. Brodie and Chiasson round out the five best chance suppressors.

    Who’s bad at preventing goals?

    The five worst regulars on the team at Goals Against per 60 minutes of even strength ice time:

    1. Johnny Gaudreau
    2. Troy Brouwer
    3. Sean Monahan
    4. Sam Bennett
    5. T.J. Brodie

    Brodie, one of the best at suppressing chances, is one of the worst at preventing goals. There are probably some crazy bounces involved there. Nobody allows more Scoring Chances Against per 60 than Brouwer does. (Second place is not close.) Monahan is the other holdover in the bottom five of both goals and scoring chances against. Jokipakka, Versteeg and Ferland round out the bottom five in chances against. That means Gaudreau and Bennett are dragged down by some bad puck luck, but nowhere as much as Brodie has been.

    Sum it up

    Yes, the Flames have been reliant on special teams scoring to win games. If they relied upon their even strength scoring alone, they would narrowly lose most of their games.

    The challenge for the Flames this season has been that the players you would expect to generate scoring chances (and goals) haven’t generated scoring chances (or goals) to nearly the degree that would be hoped for. We’re talking about the team’s most expensive players when we examine this. Combine that with some occasional defensive and goaltending struggles and the Flames have faced several fundamental challenges that they’ll have to find a way to overcome if they hope to return to the postseason.