Calgary’s Special Teams Are Killing Their Season

Famed Canadian comedian Red Green famously said, “If women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy.” While a tad politically incorrect nowadays, the statement boils down to the idea that while you can’t be great at everything, you better be good at something.

So far this season, the Calgary Flames have struggled to be called handsome or handy in a hockey sense. Throughout the 2014-15 season, the Flames were hemmed into their own zone and played from behind on many occasions. A combination of key goals at key times and taking advantage of special teams situations was enough to get the Flames into the playoffs.

This season, the Flames are marginally better at avoiding putting themselves in tough situations at even-strength, but they have been downright awful in their special teams game.


The conventional wisdom in hockey is you ideally want your power-play and penalty-killing percentages to add up to 100%. In that sense, you want to inflict as much damage on your opponents with your special teams as they do to you. If you’re a bit above 100% combined, you’re probably quite happy. If you’re a bit below 100%, you’re probably a bit worried.

Heading into Sunday’s games:

  1. Washington – 109.4%
  2. Dallas – 109.3%
  3. Boston – 109.1%
  4. Montreal – 108.5%
  5. Anaheim – 105.2%
  6. NY Islanders – 105.0%
  7. NY Rangers – 104.0%
  8. New Jersey – 103.9%
  9. St. Louis – 103.4%
  10. Los Angeles – 103.4%
  11. Chicago – 102.1%
  12. Florida – 101.2%
  13. Ottawa – 99.9%
  14. Pittsburgh – 99.7%
  15. Columbus – 99.0%
  16. San Jose – 98.9%
  17. Toronto – 98.6%
  18. Colorado – 98.6%
  19. Detroit – 98.3%
  20. Edmonton – 98.3%
  21. Vancouver – 97.9%
  22. Buffalo – 97.7%
  23. Philadelphia – 97.5%
  24. Arizona – 96.7%
  25. Nashville – 95.7%
  26. Winnipeg – 94.9%
  27. Minnesota – 94.4%
  28. Tampa Bay – 93.5%
  29. Carolina – 89.0%
  30. Calgary – 84.2%

Heading into Sunday’s games, the Flames sat with the distinction of being the NHL’s worst team both in the power-play (12.2%) and the penalty kill (72.0%).

Looking at the team’s leaders in power-play scoring, it’s no wonder why they haven’t excelled this season. Johnny Gaudreau leads the Flames power-play scorers with just five points, while notables Sean Monahan (2 points), Dougie Hamilton (1 point), Mark Giordano (1 point) and Michael Frolik (0 points) lag well behind. One significant challenge for the Flames on the man-advantage has been gaining the zone with regularity; only Gaudreau seems to have the ability to carry the puck into the zone without losing control, or without running into defenders and losing possession in the process.


However, Calgary’s special teams struggles did not prevent them from having success against two the best teams in the NHL recently: the Dallas Stars and the Boston Bruins. While the power-play was unsuccessful in the two games – generating nine shots and zero goals in just shy of 13 minutes with the extra man – but the Flames were successful in limiting the chances of their opponents’ power plays. Dallas managed just two shots on two man-advantages, while Boston failed to register a shot in their one power-play.

Following their overtime win over Boston, Giordano shared his thoughts on his club’s special teams.

“We got some good looks on the PP. I know myself I had some chances there,” said Giordano, praising Boston’s ability to take away chances while alluding to his own team’s ability to stay out of the penalty box. “We’ve been disciplined for awhile now. The last 10-15 games, I feel like we haven’t taken more than two or three a night.”

Dating back to their wild Halloween game in Edmonton that saw them give the Oilers four power-plays, Giordano’s recollection is correct: since the beginning of November, the Flames have given their opponents 29 power-plays over 14 games (an average of just over 2 per game). Prior to November, the Flames were averaging 3.2 power-plays against per game but curiously, their increased discipline has actually coincided with their power-play giving up goals at a higher clip. Despite that, taking fewer penalties has left the team in a less vulnerable position overall.

As for their power-play? Following the Boston game, Flames head coach Bob Hartley had this assessment.

“On the power-play, we’re going to keep working.”

The 2015-16 Flames are still very much a work in progress.