It’s probably safe to say that the first five games for the Calgary Flames under new head coach Glen Gulutzan haven’t exactly gone according to plan. While the hopes were that the new-school bench boss could transform the Flames from a shot-blocking reliant group into a puck-possession marvel, it hasn’t quite unfolded that way. After six games of the 2016-17 season, the Flames are 1-4-1.
So what exactly has gone wrong for the Flames so far? Here’s the Cole’s Notes:
They’re Bad Defensively
It’s not so much bad as much as they give up a lot of good chances. The team’s much-lauded defensive grouping – including such names as Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie and Dougie Hamilton – haven’t been overly sharp. They’ve all been burned on bad reads and poorly timed pinches so far, and a lot of their gaffes have ended up in their net.
— StatsCentre (@StatsCentre) October 23, 2016
Their Power Play Is Poor
The Flames scored a third period power-play goal in their season-opening game in Edmonton. From then on, they’ve failed to score on 22 consecutive man advantages. The culprits are multiple: taking bad shots, making bad passes, taking too long to set up when they have managed to gain entry to the zone, and a general inability to even do that with consistency. The Flames are lucky to manage a shot or two per power play, which is pretty bad unless you’re scoring immediately (which they are not). In short? They often seem to be pressing too hard and frequently get in their own way.
It probably doesn’t help matters that Johnny Gaudreau, due to his contractual stalemate, and Sean Monahan, due to a lingering back injury, had shortened (or in Gaudreau’s case, non-existent) training camps and have been scrambling to catch up. Given that they’re the team’s most potent offensive weapons, having them behind the eight-ball has put the entire attack off-kilter from the opening puck drop.
Their Penalty Kill Is Struggling
Calgary had the worst penalty kill in the entire NHL in 2015-16. Their 2016-17 group isn’t off to good start either, based on the first six games. The Flames have allowed eight power-play goals in 31 chances, giving them the painful distinction of being both the NHL’s most penalized team and the one that’s given up the most power-play goals. The challenge for the Flames has been to limit chances in the slot; their pressure game has forced teams to take shots and make deflections on the move, and putting the pressure on the perimeter has unfortunately left either the middle of the slot or right in front of the net wide open for attackers.
A Timing Turnaround?
The good news is that the Flames are actually fairly decent at even strength and their goaltending has been strong, with many of the goals they’ve given up being opportunities that would’ve required a Herculean effort to stop. The entire team seems to have their timing just a little off, resulting in a momentary hesitation before virtually any key play – a pass through the neutral zone, an attempted point shot, a Gaudreau deke – and things have only spiraled from there.
The source for some optimism is that timing can be found again, typically through repetition and hard work. Given that their woeful October 2015 performance resulted in them being far behind the playoff pack last season, the Flames can only hope that things click into place for them before too much sand has run through the proverbial hourglass and their playoff hopes have fully faded.
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.