clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Calgary Flames are quietly surging up the NHL’s Western Conference standings

The team’s impressive seven-game win streak hasn’t gotten much love.

Calgary Flames v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images

So far this season, no one has been able to take the Pacific Division crown from the Vegas Golden Knights. The NHL’s newest franchise took the league by storm and has been sitting untouched at the top of the Pacific for most of the season. However, if the Calgary Flames have any say in the matter, it might not be for much longer.

The Flames have started out the 2018 portion of the season calendar on a roll, as they’ve won their last seven games to remain unbeaten in the new year. Their biggest win of the stretch, a 5-1 victory over the scorching Tampa Bay Lightning, has showed that the team is not to be taken lightly despite rolling into the Christmas break just a few games over .500 with an 18-15-3 record.

Calgary has had their fair share of problems this season, like what to do with aging NHL veteran Jaromir Jagr — who’ve they’ve since put on injured reserve with a lower-body injury — but they are heading into their bye week on the NHL’s current longest winning streak nonetheless. They’ve got a few days to rest up before tackling on the remainder of the season, so let’s take a look at why the Flames have been cooking as of late.

The resurgence of Mike Smith

Sometimes, an NHL team is only as good as their goaltender. When your netminder is hot, it can make the difference between winning a playoff series — see Pittsburgh over the last two years — and going home after a long season. Since Mike Smith joined the Flames after being traded from Arizona in the offseason, the 35-year-old netminder has put together one of his best seasons of his career.

In 38 games played, Smith has a .924 save percentage with two shutouts to his name. Since beginning his career as an NHL goaltender in the 2006-07 season, Smith has just one other year that tops this, his age-29 season, where he posted a .930 save percentage in 67 games for the Coyotes.

In the remainder of his time as an NHL goaltender, Smith could not crack the .916 save percentage mark. It’s hard to tell if Smith’s failings over his career could be contributed to the wallowing Coyotes, but he’s been blowing expectations out of the water for Calgary so far.

The Flames have also gotten pretty capable backup netminding from 25-year-old rookie David Rittich, who has a .932 save percentage in six games played this year. In total, the Flames are the NHL’s eighth-best team in raw combined save percentage numbers this season, a far cry from ranking in the bottom 10 last year.

Offense, offense, offense

Calgary isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire overall offensively, but they are getting some incredible production from their top line of Micheal Ferland, Sean Monahan, and Johnny Gaudreau.

For starters, Gaudreau is on pace for a career high in points this year, as his 54 total points in 45 games is well over a point-per-game pace. His 39 assists lead the team by double digits and Gaudreau is only shooting at 11.7 percent, a fairly cool number for such a high point total.

Alongside Gaudreau is Ferland, who has 29 points in 44 games, and Monahan, who has 21 goals and 42 total points in 44 games. The trio are the NHL’s third-most productive line, according to Left Wing Lock, with 24 goals for when together on the ice.

The Flames are also getting quality production from 20-year-old Matthew Tkachuk (31 points) and Mikael Backlund (29 points) to help round out the team’s top five scorers on the season.

The underlying numbers back them up ...

It’s been touch and go at some points this season for the Flames, but overall the advanced metrics are holding up the eye test. Calgary is the NHL’s seventh-best team with a 52.23 Corsi-For percentage at 5-on-5, according to Corsica, and their CF/60 is just behind top team Chicago at 62.62 halfway through the season.

The team’s overall advanced shot metrics have also been incredibly consistent through most of the season at the high end of the spectrum, as demonstrated by this lovely chart from Sean Tierney on Twitter.

While their expected even strength GF/60 is worse than their actual GF/60 marks, their seventh-best 2.06 GA/60 has certainly been the work of Smith and Rittich in net. Despite the lack of production in goals, the team overall has the NHL’s 11th-worst shooting percentage of 7.34 at even strength, meaning they’ve possibly been unlucky in the shooting department all season.

But is there concern coming out of the break?

It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Flames actually struggle coming out of their league-mandated bye week. The five-day break honestly could not have come at a worse time for the Flames, as the team’s highly sought momentum may burn out with a couple days of rest.

That break also means that teams like the Golden Knights or the Los Angeles Kings will get their own chances to make headway in the standings while the Flames are stagnant. With the standings close in the middle of the pack, Calgary could fall out of the playoff picture just by taking a break at the wrong time.

Regardless, how the Flames respond coming out of the bye week on Jan. 20 against the Central’s best Winnipeg Jets will be a good marker of where they stand after such a fantastic last few weeks.