The Calgary Flames may be the best team in recent playoff memory to trail a first round series by a 3-0 margin. The Flames suffered their third consecutive loss in Game 3, this time at the Scotiabank Saddledome, as they blew a 4-1 second period lead to ultimately lose 5-4 in overtime. The spectre of a first round sweep at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks looms – it would be their first time swept since 1996 – but the focus of a results-oriented business at a results-driven time of year may overshadow several aspects of the Flames game that are actually quite impressive.
They’re Possessing the Puck
During the Bob Hartley years, the Flames were a very reactive, counter-punch hockey club. They didn’t possess the puck a lot, and they were reliant on creating chances off the rush by catching the other team deep in the offensive end and getting behind their players to create odd-man opportunities. Under Glen Gulutzan, the Flames have moved to much more of a puck possession style of game. So far in their series with Anaheim, a veteran team that knows how to play with the puck, the Flames have been competitive. At five-on-five, they’re slightly ahead in shot attempts (50.5%, via Natural Stat Trick) and shots on goal (51.0%).
It’s not as if the Flames are the Washington Generals playing Anaheim’s Harlem Globetrotters through three games. They have the puck as much as the Ducks do.
They’re Generating Chances
The Flames have the puck as much as the Ducks do and, at five on five, they’re generating more scoring chances than Anaheim. Collectively, the Flames have generated more scoring chances (56.9%) and more high-danger scoring chances (58.9%) than the Ducks. 13 of the Flames 18 skaters have out-chanced the Ducks while they’re on the ice. The Calgary skaters in the black in terms of chances are (from most to least): Micheal Ferland, Sean Monahan, T.J. Brodie, Michael Stone, Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, Johnny Gaudreau, Lance Bouma, Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund, Matt Stajan and Michael Frolik. For the readers unfamiliar with the Flames, that’s three of Calgary’s four forward lines and their top two defensive pairings.
Calgary has the puck as much as Anaheim and they’re generating more chances. So why are they down 3-0? It’s actually pretty simple.
It’s Not Just Goal Reviews
A lot of the finger-pointing among the Flames fan-base for the 3-0 series deficit has been directed towards the National Hockey League’s war room in Toronto for a pair of goal reviews that went against the Flames. A potential go-ahead goal in Game 2 was ruled no-goal on the ice and upheld by a subsequent video review, ruling no-goal due to goaltender interference by the Flames attackers. A goal during Anaheim’s third period comeback in Game 3 was ruled a good good on the ice and upheld by a subsequent video review despite being knocked out of mid-air by Nate Thompson’s stick. The goal reviews going against the Flames are not to blame for the series going the way it has primarily because other factors are putting the Flames in a situation where bad breaks from goal reviews can put them behind the eight-ball.
They’re Not Getting “The Bounces”
Through the first three games of their series, the Flames have scored on just 2.6% of their shots on net and stopped 90.4% of shots faced. They rank 13th of the 16 playoff teams in shooting percentage and 15th in save percentage. Combined, their PDO (or percentage driven outcomes) are 93%, 15th among playoff teams. In light of the other performances they’ve had, the numbers seem to point towards a simple conclusion: the Flames really aren’t getting “the bounces.” In this usage, “the bounces” is a simplified way of saying that the random low-percentage shots they put on Anaheim’s net aren’t going in nearly as much as Anaheim’s are, while Calgary’s good chances aren’t getting buried nearly as much as Anaheim’s are either – the Flames are converting on just 3% of their high-danger scoring chances compared to Anaheim’s 13% conversion rate. It’s a combination of ice-cold goaltending (from Brian Elliott) and ice-cold shooting at the same time at the worst time of year for that to happen. Of the 13 Flames players to out-chance the Ducks at even strength, only three (Monahan, Backlund and Stone) have actually scored goals.
As a result of “the bounces,” there are no Flames skaters who have been on for more five-on-five goals for than goals against. There are no “plus” Flames players – Brodie, Stone, Alex Chiasson, Kris Versteeg and Sam Bennett lead the team with even plus/minus ratings. This even strength performance has put a huge emphasis on special teams play and even Calgary’s three power play goal performance in Game 3 wasn’t enough to overcome their even strength deficiencies.