Special Teams Saving Flames

One of the chief issues when examining the Calgary Flames’ slow start to the year was the shortcomings of their power play and penalty kill. Ranking 30th in both categories for an extended period of time, the Flames were lost and without direction and assistant coach Dave Cameron was the sole proprietor to shoulder the blame.

Since that tumultuous start, the Flames have become much more effective in both aspects. Since Oct. 31, they possess a 14 percent power play, good enough for 21st in the league and an 82 percent penalty kill, placing them at 19th.

Through this, the Flames have improved their position in the overall rankings to 29th (PP) and 28th (PK). While this may not seem significant in terms of overall production, these have been a catalyst for the team’s resurgence to achieve a .500 record of 13-13-2.

Systemic Improvement

Throughout this stretch of games, the Flames have taken head coach Glen Gulutzan’s possession mindedness and run with it. Firing on all cylinders, the possessive monster line of Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik has taken the top spot from Sean Monahan’s pugnacious gang with Kris Versteeg and Troy Brouwer.

Taking into account the length of time it took to “click,” the Flames  are now reaping the rewards of being a possession-minded team. Using the cycle to their advantage, at five-on-five, they have been something to marvel at, even receiving top-quality shifts from the rambunctious bottom-three of Micheal Ferland, Freddie Hamilton and Garnet Hathaway.

(Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)
(Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

This factors into the Flames’ power play significantly, as success at even strength helps build confidence that carries over.

In terms of development, the Flames have begun wheeling the puck freely in the offensive zone. When they can enter the zone that is. What they have improved upon is controlled zone entries leading to overall improved quality of possession. The problem is that this doesn’t directly carry over on the power play. There seems to be a stark inability to get clean zone entries when it matters.

When they do gain control of the zone, the 1-3-1 system is natural and moving the puck has become second nature. Where before, the puck seemed to conspire against the Flames, there has been noticeable improvement among squads in moving it around effectively.

With a revitalization in special teams the Flames inch closer to the top of the Pacific Division behind Edmonton and San Jose by three points, translating to 6-3-1 record in their last 10. To make their way back in to the playoff picture Calgary will have to sustain this trend.

Although this is largely considered the by-product of production from all lines with the absence of Johnny Gaudreau, the power play has been lifted by the interchangeability of the forwards in these situations. Using forwards like Micheal Ferland and Kris Versteeg in a multitude of situations.

Back To Reality

While fans call en masse for the head of assistant coach Dave Cameron, the situation which the Flames find themselves in is a position of growth. The ability to adapt at a moments notice to what the opponent shows is paramount in feeling success on special teams.

Time is on the side of the young gun Calgary Flames, and with a new system beginning to work its way in to the daily routine, there is substantial growth throughout the lineup.

While a 14.0% conversion rate on the PP can arguably be seen as inefficient, in this context this is a great step in the right direction for the team.

While December rears its head, we start to see team’s true colors and what reveals itself is a weak Pacific Division. With Edmonton slumping and the Flames trending upwards, there is space atop the division.

With the dismantling of the Anaheim Ducks, the Flames are showing that they are not going away quietly.