The Flames hit the all-star break with a firm 23-13-6 record, good for 4th in the division with the least games played.
Although they’ve exceeded expectations with an electric first half, they still have some work to do.
After a 4-2 win against the Arizona Coyotes, the Calgary Flames officially completed the first half of the 2021-2022 regular season. For many fans, after last season’s disappointment, this year has been a breath of fresh air. Led by all-star Johnny Hockey and co, the team has been consistently competitive and well structured.
What has most fans excited is they’re deservedly winning games. The Flames are first league-wide in both CF% and XGF% going into the break. Despite showing dominance in those key statistical categories, the Flames have flaws they’ll need to focus on. Here’s my wish list for the team to try and make the most from the second half of the season.
Flames enter the all-star break 1st in the NHL in CF%, 1st in XGF%, and arguably the best 1L in the league. Their only real blemish is an ES SH% of 7.63 (22nd).
— Kent Wilson (@Kent_Wilson) February 3, 2022
Acquire Secondary Scoring Help
If you ask any fan of the Calgary Flames who the best players on the team are, they’ll probably mention both Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, and for good measure. The duo and Elias Lindholm have been one of the most dominant lines in the NHL, owning an xGF rate of 64% in 510 minutes, the highest played line in the whole league. To understand just how insane that metric is, none of the four lines ahead of them in these metrics have even played over 200 minutes yet.
Since being put together last year, Gaudreau and Tkachuk have played 681 ES mins together. Here are their combined results over that period:
— Kent Wilson (@Kent_Wilson) January 25, 2022
The Flames have one of, if not the best line in the NHL. The question remains – what about the rest of the forward lines? Calgary’s issue lies in the fact that they haven’t been nearly as productive as they should be.
The Mangiapane-Backlund-Coleman line has been excellent analytically but for extended periods struggled, especially at home, to put the puck in the back of the net. The third line is great at limiting chances, but can’t produce enough of their own. The fourth line is, well, the fourth line.
What the team needs is a bonafide finisher, a player they can rely on to consistently to put pucks in the net. Some players that come to mind are Jared McCann or Jordan Eberle of the Seattle Kraken, JT Miller of the Vancouver Canucks, Kevin Fiala of the Minnesota Wild, and an unlikely add in Timo Meier of the San Jose Sharks. Regardless of the name brought in, Brad Treliving has some work to do.
The #Flames could stand to improve their finishing heading toward the deadline. Currently wondering if that might be accomplished by adding a playmaker. Outside the top line, there are 0 Flames forwards above the league median in 5v5 A/60. pic.twitter.com/xQ4CijkqxC
— Greg Amundsen (@PuckLuck83) February 7, 2022
Play The Kids
The newest variation of the Flames fourth line, Lucic-Ruzicka-Lewis, has barely been treading water of late with a 49 CF%. The earlier variation with Richardson fared even worse, and as a Flames fan, it was upsetting seeing that line continuously getting dominated.
Meanwhile, westward in Stockton, the Flames have a few young guns lighting the lamp in Jakob Pelletier, Matthew Phillips, and Glenn Gawdin. Phillips became the Heat’s all-time leading goal scorer this year. The switch seems obvious – sit some veterans and call up the young guys. For Darryl Sutter, this answer doesn’t seem obvious, especially with his answer on Jakob Pelletier’s performance.
— Kristen Anderson (@KdotAnderson) January 11, 2022
While it’s true they won’t magically solve the Flame’s secondary scoring issues, why not give it a try? Ruzicka was called up and has looked much better than Richardson and the team can simply add by subtracting the likes of negative-worth players like Lewis and Pitlick. Continuously playing those players while young, promising prospects are lighting up the AHL doesn’t make much sense and is something Sutter should think about heading into the second half of the season.
Flames Need To Control Jacob Markstrom’s Starts
As the season has progressed, Sutter’s preference for Jacob Markstrom has become apparent. In 42 games, Markstrom has started 33 of them. The No. 1 netminder is on pace for about 66 games.
Some would argue that a starting goaltender is expected to carry that sort of load, especially for a goalie making $6 million. However, none of the last seven Stanley Cup-winning goalies played over 60 regular season games the year they won, a strong enough reason to curtail Markstrom’s workload ever so slightly.
Those Cup-winning goalies went into the playoffs without being overworked, which made all the difference. So why are the Calgary Flames insistent on playing Markstrom every chance they get?
That’s a great shot but I can’t help but feel that Markstrom is not feeling “it” tonight. https://t.co/aZQXXMD0vX
— Kristen Anderson (@KdotAnderson) February 3, 2022
Even in the second half of a back-to-back game against the second-worst team in the league, Sutter started Jacob Markstrom. Since the calendar flipped to 2022, Dan Vladar has played a grand total of two full games and a relief period against Dallas.
The Flames played 13 games in that span, including a back-to-back where Markstrom got both starts. Going into the break, Markstrom started nine straight games. He needs a rest for the overall good of the team.
The numbers support this theory, with his save percentage going from .942 in the first 13 games split to .908 and .913 in the next 11 and 9 games, respectively. The solution is quite simple: give Vladar more starts. Not only is it good to give Markstrom a rest, but it will be beneficial to find out what kind of netminder they have in Vladar and whether he’s worth the 3rd round pick we gave up for him.
Flames Going Forward
The Calgary Flames are a really good hockey team and I fully expect them to challenge for a top spot in the Pacific Division.
That being said, there are a few areas the team can address. Namely, acquiring secondary scoring, playing their young talent and starting the backup more could have a huge effect on results going forward.
For the Flames to be a true contender, they desperately need a definitive finisher, a fourth line they can trust, a rested Markstrom and they’d be wise to look into this as they kick off the second half of the season.