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Assessing the validity of the Flames' historically hot start

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The Calgary Flames hold leads in several key categories through what's nearly the first six weeks of the NHL season.They have the best overall goal differential in the NHL at plus-27. They have conceded the fewest goals league-wide at five-on-five. They have more shutouts than any of their contemporaries, blanking teams at a disrespectful rate of 37 percent so far. They have also spent the most time playing with the lead. 

It's all added up to more points than any other team in the Pacific Division.

They also lead the NHL in that dreaded stat which combines shooting and save percentages to predict future outcomes with a proven unsustainable 1.037 PDO at five-on-five.

Now, it's only natural that the crooked numbers the Flames have produced would spit out stats that would suggest a correction is coming. No team has finished with a PDO higher than 1.03 over the last five seasons, with the "most fortunate" of teams usual hovering around two percentage points above the theoretical median of 1.0.

It's a safe bet, then, that the Flames will perform well below their current mark for the rest of the season.

Though in reality we didn't need an analytic to tell us this. 

Because history works too.

The most team shutouts for a single season in the NHL's modern era belong to the 2011-12 St. Louis Blues, who survived 60 minutes without blemish 15 times with the combination of Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak. 

At their current pace, the Flames — or Jacob Markstrom and Dan Vladar — would double that mark.

More pucks, on more nights, are set to find their way through Flames netminders. And that's that.

Fortunately, what's also predictive is that conceding a little more shouldn't result in devastating outcomes. That's because aside from the pristine .958 five-on-five save percentage Markstrom and Vladar have combined for while approaching the quarter pole, just about everything else we have seen from the Flames is highly repeatable.

That equal part contributing to the PDO — overall shooting percentage — is hovering around a very standard, very average 9.69 percent. 

That league-best goal differential has been earned, in large part, through top-five rates in shots, attempts, and a league-best share of overall scoring chances. 

These are the numbers that lend evidence to the notion that the Flames are very much for real.

What has transpired in Calgary has been surprising, if not shocking, based on last season.

It appeared as though there was a fairly considerable philosophical divide between Calgary's core group and the brought-back-again head coach Darryl Sutter. If Sutter was oil, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan were water, at least it seemed. And while spending a summer bringing in personnel that fit Sutter's ideals and not Gaudreau's creativity, with management cornering the market on cheap-ish offensively-limited defenders like Nikita Zadorov and Erik Gudbranson, it seemed from a distance that the offseason activity may only continue to feed the disconnect.

The Flames are doing things defensively we haven't seen since the 1920's, but how sustainable is Calgary's blazing-hot start? (Getty)
The Flames are doing things defensively we haven't seen since the 1920's, but how sustainable is Calgary's blazing-hot start? (Getty)

Instead, Gaudreau in particular is thriving in this defensively-responsible system with the fourth-most points in the entire NHL, while more natural selections in a Sutter regime, Elias Lindholm and Andrew Mangiapane, are authoring special offensive seasons as well. 

Lindholm has joined Gaudreau as one of nine players with 20-plus points, while Mangiapane trails only Leon Draisaitl in the Rocket Richard race with 15 goals in 19 games. 

It has been more than buy-in; the Flames are executing the Sutter style to perfection. 

Snatching up and staunchly protecting leads through heavy, downhill puck possession and pressure shift over shift, and physical and mean defensive zone tactics, a team that once appeared miscast and incongruous with its coach have harmonized in a special and surprising way.

As much as there is precedent to lean on to predict that certain elements of Calgary's success will diminish some, there's also history backing the notion that when everyone is on Sutter's page, these are the sort of results that follow.

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