Enduring yet another tumultuous start, Calgary Flames fans have little to be optimistic about. The veterans of this team are under-performing and they are losing the special teams battles night in and night out.
What is there to be heralded as a success thus far?
What is important to recognize is that the Flames are at the start of a new coaches tenure. Optimism is something fans should keep in the back of their mind. Cautious optimism. As time is largely still on the side of Glen Gulutzan.
With little to cheer for, fans are becoming impatient, which at this point does little to imbue hope in the current Flames roster.
The special teams have been poor, narratives about goaltending controversy have returned, and the seemingly unending Dougie Hamilton trade rumours have re-surfaced.
With all of this in our minds, it’s a concerning start to the year; but what is going wrong? Why are things the way they are?
Special Teams Need Special Attention
With so much at stake this season, the Flames have limped out of the gate yet again, only to be held up by their Achilles’ heel last season.
In terms of time spent at 5v5, the Flames rank 12th overall in the NHL. With increased time spent shorthanded or on the power play, the Flames are putting themselves at a disadvantage by holding a 9.4% conversion rate on the power play; good enough for 29th place in the NHL (edging the Ottawa Senators by a mere .1%).
On top of this, the Flames are 29th in terms of penalty kill percentage, at 73.0. While the Flames are spending an exorbitant amount of time relying on their special teams, they are coincidentally losing games because of it.
Not to say that this team would yield better results if they had stayed at 5v5 more often, but the current system or percentages suggest that the biggest part of the issue can come from surrendering goals on the penalty kill and not converting on the power play.
If the Flames were suppressing offence on the penalty kill or scoring on the power play, one could suggest that they may have more wins to their name.
Although now dated, Ryan Pike’s tweet supplements this argument well.
#Flames record if only ES goals counted: 6-6-3. Record if only special teams goals counted: 2-9-3.
— Ryan Pike (@RyanNPike) November 11, 2016
Who is to shoulder the blame for this inept ability on the power play? Surely the coaching staff is, as they’re the ones who implement the system right? Dave Cameron has been tasked with improving the Flames power play and has led it down a path akin to a style loosely related to former assistant coach Martin Gelinas’ pseudo 1-3-1 system. Surely the coaches are to blame.
However, there is only so much blame to be given to the coaching staff on this. As a power play revolves heavily on adapting to the situation before you, it’s difficult to find a scape goat purely in Cameron. At what point do you hold the players accountable? The Flames players seem to be banging their head against a wall hoping it eventually breaks. Sticking to the “style” implemented and doing little to deviate when faced with adversity, or a team that reads their style effectively. And while this is likely to produce results, it will neither be reproducible or substantial.
Deviation from the current style would not be a renunciation of Cameron’s efforts in turning this power play into a possession driven style. In fact, the one time the Flames felt success on their power play scoring twice in one game, there was a sense of urgency and the puck seemed to move freely for the Flames.
If the Calgary Flames are to make a resurgence in the standings, it is going to have to come off of the back of a newly crafted ability on special teams. Currently, this is sinking the Flames. Be it a power play or a penalty kill — it is indiscernible.
Relying on your ability at 5v5 can only go so far and what the Flames need to do is improve exponentially or they will suffer their worst finish in recent history.
Perhaps we are reading in to this too much. Perhaps all the Flames need is time to figure out their structural issues on special teams. The list of excuses grow larger and larger the more we look in to this, but as time goes on and as the excuses rack up the losses are too.
What the Flames need to do is theorize success in a different facet, throw caution to the wind, adapt and grow. Anything at this point would be a massive step forward in terms of special teams growth.