The Flames might be an exception to the rule
Author: Harrison Brooks – Contributor
Earlier in the year, I wrote about the recent trends in NHL stats keeping that is advanced stats, namely Corsi. In said article, I made statements about how puck possession is vital for team success, thus making strong Corsi and Fenwick numbers vital to a team’s success. However, there are always anomalies in the data. One of these anomalies is the Calgary Flames. The Flames are “out-Corsi’d” almost every game, but despite this, are currently battling for second place in their division. So, looking at the numbers, it leads people to think the Flames are getting lucky constantly, where as when you watch them play, their wins come from hard work, not luck.
I recently read an article on CBS Sports entitled “Flames Success Confounds Conventional Wisdom.” In this article, Chris Peters writes, “Calgary has the third worst Corsi percentage in the league.” At the start of the year, Calgary was looking like one of the worst teams in the league, but they added competent goaltending to their already superb top pairing defence. In addition, guys like Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau developed fast, and are turning into stars. At the current point in the season, if you look at the team, even without knowing the standings, it’s clear the Flames are not one of the bottom teams in the league. So, when the stats say they are the third worst team in the league, maybe it’s time to look at it in a different way.
Harrison wrote another article earlier in the school year about the benefits of stats like Corsi and Fenwick. Why don’t they apply better to the Flames like they do with the rest of the NHL?
The thing with Calgary is their style of play. It’s perfect for losing the advanced stats battle each night. On offence, because of their size and speed, they use fast breaks to their advantage. They send all three forwards to the opposition blue line then let their defence make long stretch passes with tips into the zone. This keeps the other team’s forecheck at bay, because they don’t want to give up any odd man rushes. After the tip into the zone, the Flames get on the forecheck, creating turnovers and scoring chances. They do this instead of getting down low and cycling like most other teams do, which hurts their possession numbers. On defence, they collapse in front of the net and allow teams to cycle and take shots from the perimeter, which is the reason for the Flames being outshot nearly every game.
The second point from the CBS Sports article that makes me think that the Flames are an anomaly is where Peters writes, “The Flames have not gotten all-world goaltending, like last years surprise team Colorado Avalanche did.”
Colorado plays the same fast-paced style of game as the Flames, which is where the comparisons come from. However, there are some important differences between Calgary and Colorado, but also between Colorado from last year and this year. One example is Colorado losing Paul Stastny and moving Mackinnon to centre, which could have disrupted some flow and chemistry. The most important difference is goaltending. Last year, Varlamov was outstanding and a huge part of Colorado’s success. This year, he’s fallen back down to earth, and if you combine that with the changes the team made, it makes sense that they aren’t as good this year. Compare that to the Flames who have had league average goaltending, but continue to win and defy logic, and a picture starts to be painted. This picture shows that maybe the Flames aren’t lucky but are legitimately good.
So, despite the information that advanced stats show us, there will always be glitches in the system. What this does is force us to look at the whole picture, rather than just what the numbers tell us.