The Flames Deserved a Better Fate

It sports, a common truism is that teams tend to get the breaks that they deserve. In hockey, games are often decided by bad breaks and random bounces but the theory behind having a seven game series to determine which team moves forward is because bounces and oddness tend to balance out over time. If a team’s playing well enough for long enough, they’ll usually get rewarded. Unfortunately for the Calgary Flames in their series with the Anaheim Ducks, they were the exception and not the rule.

The Flames dropped four consecutive games to the Ducks for the series sweep, losing by scores of 3-2, 3-2, 5-4 (in overtime) and 3-1 (with an empty net goal). Fundamentally-speaking, the Flames lost four one goal games to the team that won the Pacific Division. The games were all decided by a combination of bounces and weirdness.

The Numbers Game

If you were to argue that the Flames were the better team in the series, you would have a pretty good case if you ignored the scoreboard and focused on all of the underlying five on five numbers involved in each game.

  • The Flames had the Corsi advantage in Games 1, 3 and 4.
  • The Flames had a shots on goal advantage in Games 2, 3 and 4.
  • The Flames had a scoring chance and high-danger scoring chance advantage in Games 1, 2 and 3.
  • The Flames’ special teams units out-scored Anaheim’s by a 7-3 margin.

The Ducks’ scored on 9.7% of their five on five shots and 12.1% of their high-danger chances. The Flames? 1.9% of their shots and 2.8% of their high-danger chances. As a result, the Ducks out-scored the Flames five on five 10-2. That was the series, right there.

Four Plays That Killed Them

Brian Elliott (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

The Flames played well enough, and at times poorly enough, that bounces and weird plays could sink them in the series. And so they did. Here are the four most prominent plays that swung the series.

  • A terrible line change in Game 1 which gave the Ducks a three-on-none rush (as all five Flames skaters left the ice at once). Rickard Rakell scored on the ensuing rebound to tie the game. The Flames had been nursing a one goal lead and never led again in the game.
  • A wrap-around goal by Rakell off a dump-and-chase play from Ryan Getzlaf early in Game 2. The Flames defenders all swarmed Getzlaf, allowing Rakell a ton of time to tuck the puck into the Flames net. The goal spotted the Ducks a two goal lead at home.
  • A wrist shot from Shea Theodore from outside the face-off circle that beat Brian Elliott high glove-side in Game 3 to make it 4-2. The Ducks had been reeling and this goal in the final minute of the second period gave them hope. They eventually came back to tie the game in the third (off another Theodore goal) and win in overtime.
  • A low wrist shot from Patrick Eaves that beat Elliott low stick-side in Game 4 to make it 1-0. The Flames were extremely tense in the first period and seemingly needed some reassurance from their netminder that he was on his game. They got an indication of the exact opposite early in the game and were never able to claw their way back in.

A lot of fingers will be pointed at Elliott for allowing soft goals, or allowing goals at terrible times. That said, the whole team showed its inexperience at crunch time in each of the games.

Lots of Positives

Based on how they played in the four game series, the Flames deserved a better fate. That said, there are lots of positives for the club to build upon in the off-season. On the aggregate, the team played a smart puck possession game throughout the series. On an individual level, four players really stood out.

20-year-old forward Sam Bennett was easily Calgary’s best player. While he struggled at times in the regular season, playing almost exclusively on Calgary’s third line and playing his first full NHL season as a center, Bennett thrived in the pace and physicality of the playoffs. Linemate Kris Versteeg was arguably the team’s most consistent player, using his size and speed well and creating havoc for the Ducks when he was on the ice.

Sean Monahan anchored a very effective Flames top line that simply couldn’t bury its chances, while T.J. Brodie was superb on the second pairing and as the team’s power play quarterback. The Flames’ power play was a big reason for its success in the playoffs and Brodie was a huge part of that success.