What We Learned: You couldn’t see this bad NHL start coming?

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What We Learned: You couldn’t see this bad NHL start coming?
What We Learned: You couldn’t see this bad NHL start coming?

(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)

Let's say you flip a coin 20 times, and you really want to have it land on heads. And it does, 15 times out of those 20.

Does this make you an expert coin flipper? Of course it does not. Random chance just went your way a lot of times in a row, and while that worked out great for you at the time, it is not indicative of future success in getting the coin to land on heads.

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However, if you didn't know any better, you would have no problem at all convincing yourself that you are the coin-flippingest coin-flipping genius that has ever flipped a coin, that mathematical convention proven over and over again simply does not apply to you because you do something that those other coin-flippers never figured out.

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But then you go and flip a coin 20 more times and you only get it to land on heads seven times. At that point, it probably becomes quite easy to blame yourself for not flipping the coin the way you did before, and to try to revisit the process and see where you might have gone wrong.

Similarly, the Calgary Flames excelled in high-leverage situations that won them a ton of points last year, and allowed them to squeak into the playoffs. For instance, there was their second-in-the-league third-period goal differential of plus-31. They scored a league-high nine times with the goalie pulled. And that sort of thing is enough to convince yourself, and those around you, that this too is a repeatable skill. It certainly helped to paint over the Flames' astonishingly bad possession numbers, and made it appear as though this was a club with a magical work ethic that simply got results that other teams could not.

And this came at a time when hockey fans, writers, players, coaches, and managers alike all accepted that what the Flames were doing was unsustainable. After a year of praising nothing but hard work, there was a bit of a media tour from Calgary brass this summer using the phrase “40-foot putt” a lot, to indicate that yeah, they knew what the problem was, and they were going to address it. So they brought in Michael Frolik and Dougie Hamilton, two guys who ostensibly help shore up poor possession to a significant extent, based on their track records. They reminded us that the core of the Flames team — Hamilton and Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennett and Sean Monahan and T.J. Brodie — were young enough that we could accept they would continue improving on impressive seasons, and that too would help to bridge the gaps where Calgary often fell short in having the solid foundational process that engenders wins in the long term.

People, in short, bought in on the Flames' newfound rationality in much the same way they'd bought into the kooky religion of just a few months prior.

And now this.

The second-worst record in the West through Saturday night, ahead of only the surprisingly bad Anaheim Ducks. Two points from five games for the first time since 1997-98, when they finished with 67 points and missed the playoffs by a mile. And not only that, but the possession problems have continued (46.6 percent, “good” for 25th in the league), and they've also been pummeled in the third period for seven goals in five games, scoring just three themselves. In their only win, they needed some of that old comeback magic to even get to overtime against division rival Vancouver, so that's also a point given away on top of everything else.

What's worse is that there are very few players on the roster who are even playing well. Mark Giordano, the guy who would have won a pair of Norris trophies in the last two seasons if he'd been able to stay healthy, has a sub-47 percent corsi-for Hamilton's is 44.1 percent, Dennis Wideman is 43.7 percent, Kris Russell is at a pathetic 39.7 percent. The team also has just 1.2 goals at 5-on-5 per game, and the offense has struggled mightily, and is somehow producing fewer shot attempts and high-quality chances for per 60 minutes than they were even last year, when they were 27th and tied for 23rd in the league, respectively, in those categories.

The Flames shouldn't be this bad. They made definitive improvements over the summer and their goalies shouldn't have save percentages starting with an “8.” Their best players shouldn't be getting run over as they have. Their best forwards should be producing more. The lack of Brodie in the lineup is glaring.

Now, those expected improvements were likely not going to be enough to instantly turn them into a decent or even middling possession team, and their goalies are only average, but the point stands that this team shouldn't be struggling as much as it has, especially considering the quality of competition here. Vancouver is no great shakes, St. Louis is obviously good, Winnipeg isn't a playoff team, and Edmonton was winless heading into Saturday's Connor McDavid show (though it must be said that while the Flames are the first team to be torched for three points by the future Hall of Famer, they're far, far, far from the last).

Things don't get any easier here either. The Capitals tomorrow night, Detroit on Friday. Then a trip out east for the Rangers, Islanders, and Senators in the space of four days. Then they host Montreal and visit Edmonton for another back-to-back (their third in two weeks) that ends on Halloween. Not a lot of games that look all that assured here, and there's a real possibility they lose five or six of those seven games coming up, especially if they keep playing like this.

It's also important to keep in mind that this is just five games we're talking about. Weird things happen. The Ducks, for instance, were winless in four with only one goal scored despite the fact that they were picked by many to be the best team in the league basically front to back. Hockey can get very, very weird in short bursts.

But still, the schedule and certain realities about this club lead one to wonder how things feel like for this club if they only have two or three wins by the end of this month? Can't imagine too many teams come back from that to make the postseason. Can't imagine too many teams even come close.

It's easy to take positive results as being the end product of hard work. And likewise, bad results can often appear to the viewer as being the result of a team not working hard. But the Flames have enough underlying numbers that are in the same ballpark as they were last year to at least begin suggesting that this team is playing very similarly — i.e. “bad process” — but not getting the bounces they enjoyed over and over again last season.

So despite the fact that Calgary ought to be doing a little better in basically all aspects of the game through five contests this season, it's pretty easy to buy into the idea that they've lost the “magic” that propelled them to such fun and fascinating relative heights last year.

Especially if you bought into the idea that they ever had such magic in the first place.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Imagine the humiliation of being shut out by Reto Berra. Good lord. Cancel the season.

Arizona Coyotes: Precisely zero people would have predicted this. Well, maybe the “no goals” part, but seven points! He's already more than a sixth of the way to a career high. 

Boston Bruins: Yeah, it was Kevan Miller getting into a fight, and not “playing the Coyotes” that allowed the Bruins to pick up a big W.

Buffalo Sabres: It's almost like this Reinhart kid is a former No. 2 overall pick.

Calgary Flames: Man, you would think the Jack Adams winner would be able to help them overcome this need.

Carolina Hurricanes: How had Eric Staal never scored against Detroit before? Doesn't that seem impossible?

Chicago Blackhawks: Brandon Saad isn't walking through that door, but at least Columbus is terrible I guess. Maybe that makes Chicago feel better.

Colorado Avalanche: Take Tyson Barrie off this D group for three games and boy does it start to look bad in a hurry.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Now now, Brandon, let's not blame the stick for all this. 

Dallas Stars: Curtis McKenzie is still in pretty rough shape, and there's not even a diagnosis other than “he got boarded as hell.” No timetable for his return sounds just about right.

Detroit Red Wings: The Red Wings have a decent record but an awful shot disparity. I'm sure they've just figured out how to drive shot quality more than their opponents.

Edmonton Oilers: This is the first Connor McDavid goal where you're like “Ohhhh, okay.” Kris Russell had no idea what to do and gave him way, way, way too much space.

Florida Panthers: Jaromir Jagr is amazing. What a player, even now.

Los Angeles Kings: You really do wonder how much the Kings being perhaps too big and physical puts them at a disadvantage in the NHL today. I would guess, “Not a lot.”

Minnesota Wild: Imagine you're getting .908 goaltending and still haven't lost in regulation? Hockey's fun.

Montreal Canadiens: The Canadiens seem to have improved their possession capabilities, but it'll be interesting to see how long they're top-four in the league. Can't be much longer, right?

Nashville Predators: Hmm it seems James Neal is good. Two power play goals against the Senators, and they both looked exactly the same. That might be a hole in Ottawa's coverage.

New Jersey Devils: It's still weird that no one wanted to sign Lee Stempniak.

New York Islanders: Jaroslav Halak got his first start of the year on Saturday and gave up three on 25. Doesn't matter, though, when the team in front of you scores six

New York Rangers: These people, man.

Ottawa Senators: Never has a truer headline been written.

Philadelphia Flyers: Dave Hakstol is like, “Yeah I literally got five days off between games every week last season. What's the big deal?”

Pittsburgh Penguins: Why it's almost like the Toronto media is made up of know-nothings with vendettas who get to color league-wide opinion.

San Jose Sharks: The Sharks are fairly banged up. And that's why you shouldn't employ Raffi Torres, like, karmically.

St. Louis Blues: Yes please.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Ben Bishop is the winningest Lightning goaltender of all time. Another one of those stats that is right but doesn't seem like it possibly could be.

Toronto Maple Leafs: B-eh-N-D-W-eh-G-O-N.

Vancouver Canucks: The list of reasons this isn't going to work is quite long.

Washington Capitals: I guess having Nicklas Backstrom back is good.

Winnipeg Jets: Dustin Byfuglien on the receiving end of a Calgary comedy of errors. Bad turnover from Gaudreau, Wideman gets his doors blown off, Ramo doesn't get on his post. But man, look how fast Big Buff got up in the play there.

Play of the Weekend

For the second week in a row, the best goal I saw was scored by a Northeastern Husky. This time it was on the women's side, though, as Kendall Coyne did this amazing thing. 

Gold Star Award

Dallas Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) and center Vernon Fiddler (38) celebrate after the Stars defeated the Florida Panthers 4-2 in an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015 in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Dallas Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) and center Vernon Fiddler (38) celebrate after the Stars defeated the Florida Panthers 4-2 in an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015 in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Hey, Tyler Seguin had four points on Saturday after two on Thursday. Hmm. I think he's good probably.

Minus of the Weekend

CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 13: Troy Brouwer #36 of the St Louis Blues scores against Jonas Hiller #1 of the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome on October 13, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 13: Troy Brouwer #36 of the St Louis Blues scores against Jonas Hiller #1 of the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome on October 13, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)

Flames goaltending this weekend combined to allow seven goals on 57 shots, which is bad.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “NA Scouting” might need to spend more time at the rink. 

To Pittsburgh:
Seth Jones
Kevin Fiala
Paul Gaustad

To Nashville:
Evgeni Malkin
Brian Dumoulin
2nd round pick 2017







Signoff

My name is Zweig.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All stats via War On Ice unless otherwise noted.)

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