When Matt Stajan scored what eventually was the winner in Calgary’s game six victory over Vancouver, it served as the perfect microcosm of the Flames’ season. Down big early, out-shot and out-chanced pretty much all game, Cinderella never gave up. Instead they stormed back for yet another third-period comeback—this one maybe their best yet: four goals in 14:43 to win 7-4 and close out the Canucks.
The Flames are a poor possession team—the third-worst in the NHL during the regular season with a 45.1% Corsi For (adjusted for when the score is close). Their Fenwick close number is one of the worst among playoff teams to win at least a round. The Flames eliminated the Canucks despite a significant possession deficit and thanks to a high PDO (101.9). Jonas Hiller outplayed Eddie Lack and Ryan Miller, and secured a date with Hiller’s former team in round two.
Although the results were extremely close between the Ducks and Jets, in reality, the Ducks ran roughshod through through games and were fully deserving of their sweep. Anaheim’s offence created havoc for Ondrej Pavelec, allowing him only 81 percent clean looks while providing Frederik Anderson with cocoon like defensive coverage. This lead to the four game sweep and also the highest expected goal differential in round one.
I have previously researched the importance of pre-shot movement and applied it to individual goaltending success, but it can also be applied toward team shooting success.
Visually charting where the Ducks offence is setting up shop shows why their expected success lines up well with the above chart. Not only are they creating high quality green looks, but they are creating them in the highest valued real estate on the ice. Contrasting that with what they allow defensively shows a team that collapses the passing lanes, clears the front of the net and frees Anderson of cross-crease feeds, tips and second chance opportunities. Looking at these heat maps we see the constant pressure which resulted in the Jets collapsing in every third period of the series.
At the opposite end of that spectrum are the Flames. While offensively they push the pedal to the medal and create chances off the rush with speed through the neutral zone as Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan create havoc, defensively against the Canucks they were even more generous allowing 81 percent clean looks for Hiller and Kari Ramo.
It’s a game plan that relies on great special teams and the opposition goaltender gifting goals if you play your opponent heads up at even strength. Hiller outplayed the Lack/Miller combo, but Hiller has to drastically outplay Anderson if the Flames maintain the same porous approach against the Ducks.
This becomes difficult when their goaltenders struggle to contain rebound opportunities like Hiller did in against Vancouver.
With big-bodied forwards like Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler who make a living in the blue paint, the Flames will be hard pressed to stop the Ducks from continuing to dominate the high-scoring areas. You can’t give second-chance opportunities to a team like Anaheim and it will be extremely important for Hiller to absorb pucks and place them in the corners.
Where the Flames can create problems for Anderson is in transition. The Jets only managed nine goals in round one, but five of them were the result of forced lateral movement (3) and deflections (2). If Calgary allows Anderson to settle in and set his depth and angles like he did against Winnipeg on 90 percent of his opportunities, the Flames will not be around for long.
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Throw possession out the window. The Flames need Gaudreau or Monahan to play shoot a 50-goal scorer and Hiller to be out for revenge against his former team to have any chance at pulling off the upset. All the signs point to an Anaheim victory and it is the smart play, but the same type of reasoning also had me picking the Flames to finisf first in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes prior to the season.
If I am cheering for anything in this series, it is Brian Burke’s hair, and more games to enjoy it in all it’s glory.