Why Are the Flames so Bad at Home?

Heading into the home stretch of the 2017-18 National Hockey League season, the Calgary Flames are a team that has accomplished several things. Mike Smith has cemented himself as a top-flight starting goaltender. Johnny Gaudreau has pushed himself into the upper echelon of NHL scorers.

Mike Smith Flames
Calgary Flames goalie Mike Smith (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

But one problem has perplexed virtually everyone around the Flames: they’re much, much better on the road than they are when playing at home. Through three-quarters of the season, they’re the league’s second-best road team but below .500 on home ice.

Better Offensively on the Road

Because home teams get last change, the logical expectation is that home teams will generally score more often than road teams because they can control match-ups and isolate the other team’s weakest lines and defensive pairings. Despite this set-up, the Flames have actually scored two more goals on the road than at home – and through 59 games, that’s with having played fewer road games. On a per-game basis, the Flames have scored 2.90 goals per game on the road and 2.73 at home. At five-on-five, their per-game output is close to even between venues: 1.87 goals at home and 1.83 on the road – the expectation is those numbers really shouldn’t be close. (The numbers in this piece are from Natural Stat Trick.)

More curiously, the majority of the Flames’ big offensive guns are actually producing more away from the Scotiabank Saddledome than in their home barn. Dougie Hamilton (10 more), Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Sean Monahan (all 6 more) and Mark Giordano (4 more) all have more points on the road. Some of that is definitely fueled by the Flames’ special teams being more effective on the road – five more special team goals for on the road than at home – but even focusing exclusively on even strength scoring, the big guns still score more often on the road.

Better Goaltending on the Road

As you would expect, the Flames give up more scoring chances on the road than they do at home. While the spike in opposition chances isn’t quite as larger as might be anticipated – the jump is roughly two even strength chances per game – it hasn’t mattered because their goaltending has been consistently outstanding on the road. The team-wide even strength save percentage is 2.8 per cent higher on the road than at home; the difference in goaltending has resulted in 22 fewer goals allowed on the road than at home.

Much of the team results have been driven by backup David Rittich, as he’s performed superbly while playing primarily in the second half of back-to-back pairs on the road. But even when focusing on Smith, his personal even strength save percentage jumps from .922 at home to .948 on the road – and that’s playing behind the same team playing the same style that they do in the Saddledome.

Improvements Not Translating Into Results

The Flames made some big roster moves in the summer. Their young core group is a year older and wiser. The team should be better than they were a year ago. The perplexing aspect of this season is that they definitively are better than they were a year ago, but it’s not being reflected in their results at home.

The Flames have really improved their even strength scoring chance differentials from last season, both at home and on the road:

  • 2016-17: +1.1 per 60 minutes at home, -1.2 on the road
  • 2017-18: +5.4 per 60 minutes at home, +0.7 on the road

Despite these improvements, the Flames have seen their home goal differential swing in the opposite direction – from +17 last season to -13 through three-quarters of this season. They lost 17 home games in all of 2016-17, but have already lost that many with 12 home games remaining. Whether it’s because the team relaxes too much at home, or tries too hard to make highlight reel plays, or simply cannot bury their chances (especially on special teams), the Flames continue to fail to gain traction in their home arena. It’s an unfortunate continuation of a season that began with a large, public skirmish with the city over a new building.