The good news if you are a Calgary Flames fan: At no point during the two games down in Anaheim did it feel like your team was overmatched. In fact, there were long spurts in both games where Calgary legitimately looked like the better side.
The bad news: Anaheim still took both games on home ice. Now Calgary, if they are serious about getting back into this series, almost certainly needs to pick up the third and fourth legs to send the series back to Southern California tied.
At 5-on-5, the series has been tight. Both shots (102 to 100) and scoring chances (21 to 15, using the logic at Corsica) are in the Flames’ favour. Though the Ducks can reasonably point to the fact that score effects are going to distort some of those numbers, it’s pretty much the same story in the 43 minutes the games have been tied.
The numbers above are the biggest reason I thought this series would go the distance. Though Anaheim is a quality team, Calgary has shown itself quite well at evens all season long and, generally, can skate against the Western Conference’s elite teams. If you are an underdog team that isn’t going to lose on shot or scoring chance volume, you’re in a good spot.
But there’s a real rub with this team, and that’s their incredible adherence to spending time in the penalty box. Poor goaltending is usually the biggest reason why a great 5-on-5 team struggles to win games. The next biggest reason is probably penalty differential.
In the first two games of the series, Calgary has given Anaheim 11 power-play opportunities, or 5.5 per game. That’s the second highest rate through two games of the playoffs by a considerable margin, and one off of the dubious lead of the Oilers in their series against the Sharks.
There also hasn’t been the offset in terms of power plays generated. Sometimes teams will take a lot of penalties and toe the line, so to speak, drawing as many penalties as they take. That hasn’t been the case for the Flames in the playoffs, nor was it the case in the regular season:
Whether or not Anaheim has converted on these opportunities is really neither here nor there (though, for what it’s worth, they already have three power-play goals in the series). The way to think about every penalty taken is that it’s worth something like 0.2 goals against. By the time you have conceded five penalties, you likely have given up one goal because the average NHL power-play rate is roughly 20 per cent. It’s the rule of five.
The problem this postseason so far (and what was also a problem in the regular season) is that despite drawing a lot of penalties, the Flames take far too many, which leaves them running consistently negative differentials. It’s doubly frustrating if you subscribe to the theory that Calgary – a fleet-skating, hard-to-defend team – has a talent for drawing penalties. In a perfect world they would be on the power play far more often than their opponents. But the reverse has been true all season long.
I have seen some interesting theories kicked around as to what kind of detrimental impact the Dennis Wideman incident has had on Calgary – there are pretty compelling arguments that officiating has, to some degree anyway, been more aggressive in whistling the Flames for infractions.
Regardless of where you fall on the Calgary conspiracy theory spectrum, there’s one point that’s incontrovertible – the Flames are continually hurting themselves with their parade to the penalty box. And that’s true both in the sense that they are gifting their opponents chances to score goals, but also shaving time off of the even-strength game state, where they really shine.
It’s a sword that slices both ways, neither of which helps the Flames.
It’ll be interesting to see how the whistles fly the rest of the series, especially over the next two games. If the Flames can’t make the most of home-ice advantage (also known as home-ice officiating bias), they could be out of the playoffs earlier than anticipated.
Discipline matters. And that’s probably true for Calgary more than any team in the league these days.