The Calgary Flames have begun their season in the Scotiabank North Division, finishing 4-5-1 in their first 10 games. They have games in hand on the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks, but the Flames will need to start turning things around quickly to compete for a playoff spot. The good news is they are playing fairly well and doing the right things. The bad news is the things they are doing poorly are really costing the team.
The team is just under a fifth of the way through the season, and there isn’t a ton of time to turn it around. If the team can find a cure to some of their ailments, they’ll have a better chance to make the playoffs. After the first 10 games of the season, here are 10 things that have been noticeable from the Flames.
Markstrom Playing Above Expectations
Since his first game in between the pipes for the Flames, Jacob Markstrom has been rock solid and a breath of fresh air for fans. He currently sits in 10th place in the league of goalies who’ve played 200 minutes with a 0.920 save percentage (SV%) while facing the third most shots of those nine other goaltenders. Narrowing it down to five-on-five and his 0.938 SV% is good for second in the league amongst those same goaltenders. Markstrom’s high danger save percentage (HDSV%) is also top five in the league amongst starters. The Swedish netminder is second in high danger saves behind Chicago Blackhawks’ Kevin Lankinen.
In just eight games to start the season, Markstrom has already posted two shutouts, including one against the Montreal Canadiens, which was their first regulation loss of the season. Looking back at 2019-20, both David Rittich and Cam Talbot combined for four shutouts in 70 games. It’s a small sample size to grade, but so far, Markstrom has been fantastic in his tenure with the Flames.
The Power Play is Clicking
The Flames power play has gotten off to a good start during the 2020-21 season as the team currently sits in the top half of the league, clicking at 23%. The team has scored one or more power play goals in seven of their ten games, but it has cooled off in the last three games going 0-10 against the Winnipeg Jets this week. The Flames have had the sixth-most power play opportunities in the league, and of those six teams, they have the third-best PP% behind the Oilers and Colorado Avalanche, respectively.
The team has already seen in 10 games seven different players score on the man advantage. They are tied with the Canadiens for the most unique power play goal-scorers in the Scotiabank North Division. If the Flames want to have success this season, the power play will need to keep rolling as the team hasn’t had a power play percentage above 22% in the past five seasons.
Sluggish Periods Have Been Costly
In many of their games this season, the Flames have been hindered by one really bad period. A couple of the games, the period where they didn’t show up most likely cost them the game. In some cases, the team has been able to claw back the victor, but other times they’ve left it too little too late.
In their first game of the season against the Jets, the Flames came out in the first period and played exceptionally well, outshooting the Jets and going into the locker room up 3-1. It was the next two periods where they could not find that same gear and were outshot the rest of the way, then losing 4-3 in overtime.
In games against the Canucks and the Toronto Maple Leafs, the team was extremely flat to start the game, being outshot 16-4 and 10-1 against each team. In the game against the Canucks, they were able to come back, thanks to Markstrom’s performance and finding that extra gear in the second and third. Against the Leafs, they were able to tie things up until Mitch Marner scored a third-period goal to give the Leafs the win.
It may just be the fact that the team had no preseason games to get warmed up, but they will need to quickly figure out ways to have a consistent 60 minutes every night. The team once again fell victim Thursday night, when after a good first period, they could not get anything going and allowed the Jets to score four unanswered in a 4-1 final.
Johnny Gaudreau is Back
The nine-game point streak to start the season can speak for itself, but Johnny Gaudreau has come out the gate firing on all cylinders. Through ten games, he has amassed six goals and four assists and has been an offensive threat for the Flames in every game. Gaudreau has been able to start the campaign hot as the Flames’ power play has been good to start. He is currently 10th in the league in power play points with three goals and three primary assists.
Gaudreau’s current hot streak can also be attributed to the fact that he currently has a shooting percentage (S%) of 20%. Last year, he finished with an abysmal 7.41% which, was well below his career average S% of around 14%. If he continues at his career average this season, fans should see a nice spike in production from Gaudreau.
Thursday night, the Jets were able to cool off Johnny and halt his point streak at nine games. It was the first game where he didn’t look relatively dangerous or have many chances. The Flames will need Gaudreau to continue this pace of production to help the team, especially if he’s matched up against third and fourth lines.
Lindholm Quietly Having Successful Start at Center
When Elias Lindholm was traded from the Carolina Hurricanes to the Flames, he was brought in for his right shot but also to play alongside Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. He has played the right-wing for most of his time in Calgary until this season when he was permanently moved to center.
Overshadowed by Gaudreau’s hot start to the season, Lindholm has scored in all but two games and has collected 11 points in 10 games. Like Gaudreau, Lindholm has also been cashing in on the power play as he has one goal and five assists on the man advantage. If he can continue to produce playing on a line with Matthew Tkachuk, the team will have a much more potent top six than they did last season.
Mangiapane Should Be in The Top Six
In the first few games of the season, it seemed as though the Flames were running with three forward pairs of Gaudreau-Monahan, Lindholm-Tkachuk, and Backlund-Mangiapane. Dillon Dube was put on the Lindholm line, and the trio was off to a hot start. After an injury to Dube, Mangiapane was promoted to the Lindholm line, and he looked very comfortable in a top-six role.
Mangiapane’s skating and play with the puck has looked very comfortable this season as he has had good flashes of both. The line of Tkachuk-Lindholm-Mangiapane has been very good for the Flames since Dube went down with an injury. In the 26 minutes the line played together, they had a Corsi For (CF%) of 69% and an expected goal for (xGF%) of 75%. This meaning that they are getting the quantity and quality shots against their opponents and by a wide margin.
Dube came back from injury and was put back on the Lindholm line once again, but they have seen a dip in their performance. Mangiapane has had success with Gaudreau and Sean Monahan as well. In the Flames 4-3 win over Winnipeg on Feb 1, the trio had a CF% over 65, and Mangiapane scored his first goal of the season. Playing on both lines, he has found success in every game. He should be considered to be in the top six full time for the remainder of the season
Andersson Taking The Reigns on First Pair
Since the departure of long-time Flame T.J. Brodie, Rasmus Andersson has taken his place on the right side of the first pair. He is no stranger to the role, as, during the 2019-20 season, he had a few games on the top pair with Mark Giordano. Like Mangiapane, Andersson has looked very comfortable in the role, and his skating has visually seemed to have taken a step forward.
Andersson has now become part of the first unit power play, and he has seized the opportunity, scoring a goal and adding two assists. The Flames’ newest top pair has been struggling slightly to start the season averaging a CF% below 50, but it’s most likely due to Andersson still adjusting to heavy minutes against a better quality of competition. Through 10 games, he has already played 211 minutes, which over an 82 game season would equate to about 1,730. That would be roughly 335 more minutes than he played last season, which was his career-high.
The Rest of The Defence Have Played Above Expectation
One of the biggest changes and questions coming into this season was the Flames’ defence, as they had three newcomers entering the lineup on opening night. Former Canuck Chris Tanev was given Travis Hamonic’s old job on the right-side second pairing with Noah Hanifin, and the two have played extremely well to start the season.
It took until game number nine on a shot from Jets defenceman Derek Forbort that Hanifin and Tanev were on the ice for a five-on-five goal against. In 150 minutes, the pair have only been on the ice for four goals against, one of four coming on the penalty kill. Of defence pairs in the league that have played at least 60 minutes, Hanifin and Tanev are third in the NHL with a 69.4%xGF and first in the league with a 61.3%CF. They have been able to achieve this kind of play while at the same time starting just 40% of their shifts in the offensive zone.
The third pairing of Juuso Valimaki and Nikita Nesterov has also excelled in the minutes they have been given. The pair has combined for a 53%CF, but they have been on the ice for seven five-on-five goals against. A couple of those goals. however, have been bad bounces and small mistakes by Valimaki that can be chalked up to learning experiences. Both defencemen have had good flashes of skill, Nesterov with a near goal against the Canadiens and Valimaki with two brilliant assists against the Jets this past week.
With the learning curve for Andersson and Giordano declining from his Norris Trophy season, it has been a bright spot for the team with the four defencemen behind them.
The Fourth Line Needs to Be Better
By both the eye test and the numbers, it was no secret that the Flames’ fourth line struggled to start the season. The line of Milan Lucic, Derek Ryan, and Joakim Nordstrom has been buried by their opposition in half of their games and have given up costly turnovers. All three players, for the most part, have looked replacement level this season, and they will need to find another gear quickly.
They don’t need to be dominating, but they can’t be making rookie mistakes that are leading to the opposition scoring. It’s especially important when the Flames are on the road as the home team can easily take advantage of a struggling fourth line with their top lines.
Flames Need Another Winger
With the news of Sam Bennett reportedly wanting out of Calgary, the Flames should be looking at adding another winger to the team. The team has a nice balance of three forward pairs, but wingers like Dominik Simon or Josh Leivo haven’t moved the needle too much to start the season. The Flames have Dube to put on one of the three lines, but they could benefit from having one more impactful winger.
The league has already seen one blockbuster trade so far this season, and the trade deadline may have some normalcy to it. That being said, the Flames should be looking to add a middle-six right-winger to the fold. A player who could add some secondary scoring or have a two-way impact that could really benefit the forward group.
Flames Need to Find Wins
“It sounds ridiculous because I think we’ve said it about a million times, but we have to play a full 60 minutes,” Andersson said post-game after their Thursday night 4-1 loss to the Jets. He is completely right, as it is the one factor that is plaguing the team to start this season. It can be attributed to at least three of the Flames’ losses this season.
Whether it’s through mixing the lines, shortening the bench, or even a trade, the Flames need to quickly find a remedy to get back on track and keep their eyes on the playoffs. If they continue to have sluggish periods and do not play a full 60 minutes, it will cost them all the good work they doing each game.
Brett is a freelance writer covering the Calgary Flames here at The Hockey Writers. He is an enthusiast of hockey stats and continues to learn every day about the sports analytics movement. Brett enjoys using both statistical analysis and the old-fashioned eye test in his writing to create the best content for readers. His work at THW has been featured on the Calgary Flames’ news feed for The Score and on Yardbarker. Brett is also part of THW’s Flames Faceoff YouTube/podcast show where he brings his opinions each week on the team’s current state of affairs.