On this intermission panel, the topic of the Calgary Flames’ penalty kill comes up. With that comes some praise for Mike Smith, some critique of taking too many penalties, and failing to capitalize on chances. While these points all individually have value, the part of Smith’s work stopping the puck is missing some important discussion.
The sample size is relatively small given we’re five games into the season, but the Flames have room for improvement already based on what data we have*:
- 30th in shot attempts against (shots/missed shots/blocked shots against ) with 74. The Flames are 27th in shot attempts against per 60 minutes (125.96)
- 31st in shots on net & missed shots against with 61. 29th in unblocked shots and missed shots against per 60 minutes (103.83)
- 30th in total shots against with 43. 27th in shots against per 60 (73.19)
- Middle of the pack (T-15th) with three shorthanded goals against**
Finally one important stat to draw attention to: the Flames are also 25th in xGA (expected goals against) at 4v5 with 4.73. Expected goals are measured by a variety of factors including shot type, location, and angle. Manny Perry’s xG model primer is located here.***
All this is to say it’s not a place you want to be to start the season. So yes, Mike Smith has been doing his part while the team in front of him struggles with penalty troubles and some potential systemic issues too.
Brief Look at Defensive Zone Systems
More often than not the Flames run a triangle + 1 (also know as a wedge +1 to some) which replaced Bob Hartley’s big box/passive box formation. This was one of the first large and rather noticeable changes last season when Glen Gulutzan and Paul Jerrard took over behind the bench.
The triangle/wedge portion comprises of both defensemen and either F1 or F2 depending on where the puck carrier is. This for the most part keeps the high-danger location neutralized while providing flexibility to adjust depending on where the puck is. The +1 is the forward used to provide indirect pressure and roam freely.
Depending on where the puck is the other forward or in some cases the defensemen can switch and transition to this role. We can see it in action here:
Off the faceoff Matt Stajan immediately becomes the +1 in the formation while Travis Hamonic, Mark Giordano, and Troy Brouwer form the triangle. Stajan is applying direct pressure immediately which gives the formation time to setup. Once the pass is made by Thomas Chabot, Brouwer subs in and Stajan circles back.
Everyone falls back into formation while Stajan transitions back as the +1. Sticks are on the ice to disrupt lanes, as Stajan provides indirect pressure resulting in a low quality shot. The triangle blocks off the high-danger slot in the middle while angling off the puck carrier.
The slight variation to the triangle +1 is a more aggressive variant known as the Czech Press which allows the +1 to apply direct pressure to the puck carrier to hopefully capitalize and force a turnover or clear the zone. Think of it like a cat chasing a laser pointer:
Michael Frolik is immediately on the puck carrier, forcing a shot immediately. As the puck heads to the corner Michael Stone is playing man-to-man here with Frolik continuing as the +1 as the Senators move back into formation. Frolik switches with Mikael Backlund who continues. The Senators continuing to press the formation for the most part continues until they capitalize on clearing the zone.
So now that we’ve established a few basics, how did the Flames fair against the Senators and what formations were utilized?
|Period||Time on clock||Pressure Type||F1||F2||D1||D2||Shots||Fenwicks||Corsis|
In formation against the Senators, the Flames did surrender 17 of the 23**** shot attempts against. For an evening where the Flames were penalized seven times (a double-minor included) a bulk of the chances were low quality. To some extent it does speak to how the Flames have surrendered attempts and zone time to power plays by way of a passive pressure to contain the attack.
Neutral Zone, Forecheck Formations, and Zone Entries Against
Beyond the defensive zone, we can use tracking and video to examine how the Flames handled forechecking and neutral zone play which has a very obvious calling card in the forechecking formation of the passive 1-3 (with a sprinkling of retreating box) which has primarily been deployed this season*****:
The F1 has a similar role to the wedge +1 in the defensive zone in that they can apply pressure when they’re confident force a play, turnover, or force the puck carrier to regroup. F1 will retreat looking to close a gap, attempting to funnel the puck carrier to one side of the ice.
F2 along with D1 and D2 need to be cognizant of players getting behind them for stretch plays that can then quickly become on the rush chances. Everyone at the blueline needs to be confident in attempting to suppress the entry or be prepared for a dump in.
An example of that is this sequence last in the second period:
With that said, part of the chaos in hockey is no system is static and it was extremely evident last night. Miscalculations in the NZ did allow Ottawa a number of chances to swing or drop pass to get through the middle of the ice easily and enter the zone. A great example of that is on this play:
What did the Flames do on the forecheck and in the neutral zone against the Senators?
|Period||F1||F2||D1||D2||Time on clock||Forecheck Type||Outcome||ZEFR|
|1||18||36||24||7||10:58||Retreating Box||Entry Broken up||0|
|1||11||67||26||5||10:21||Passive 1-3||Dump In||0|
|1||11||67||26||5||9:57||Passive 1-3||Carry In||0|
|2||18||36||26||5||7:25||Passive 1-3||Dump In||0|
|2||93||36||26||5||7:15||Retreating Box||Dump in||0|
|2||93||36||26||5||6:49||Passive 1-3||Carry In||1|
|2||18||36||24||7||5:43||Retreating Box||Carry In||1|
|2||23||20||26||5||4:22||Passive 1-3||Carry In||0|
|2||11||67||26||5||3:02||Passive 1-3||Entry Broken up||0|
|2||18||36||26||5||2:42||Retreating Box||Carry In||1|
|2||11||67||26||5||2:17||Passive 1-3||Carry In||1|
|2||18||36||24||7||1:40||Retreating Box||Carry In||1|
|3||11||67||26||5||19:55||Retreating Box||Carry In||1|
|3||18||36||26||44||15:56||Passive 1-3||Carry In||0|
- This is the more uglier side of the game that may elude to the biggest problems right now: the volume of carried in zone entries against
- ZEFR (zone entry to formation or dangerous rush) events did occur on seven of 10 carried in entries
- A number of the instances where retreating box (or some slight variation of it) was employed happened due to creating offensive zone time and the penalty killers not getting back in time as Ottawa shifted up ice
Now let’s add in entry data tracked from last night’s game:
|Period||Time on clock||Entry Type||F1||F2||D1||D2||ZEFR||Shots||Fenwicks||Corsis|
- The Flames struggled with entry suppression on aggregate and they paid for it
- Ottawa did a great job on managing any forecheck and working back up ice to gain the zone when they could. For a team missing Karlsson they fared extremely well against a good roster [on paper].
To get a better understanding of how the Flames handled zone entries, here is every zone entry/zone entry attempt against:
This is a lot of information and it’s just one game, but how does this translate to future success and solving problems?
The biggest improvement that was discussed last season wasn’t just 5v5 play: it was what Jerrard had hoped to implement at the start of last season for 4v5 play. A more aggressive, opportunistic penalty kill that did suppress the opponent and limit shots against.
And they need to get back to where they were at various intervals last season while shorthanded.
To the intermission team’s credit they do discuss creating scoring chances while down a man. In a league where scoring has gone down over recent seasons and coaches becoming more risk adverse any chance to kill time off the clock and maybe score a goal should be seen as a risk worth taking.
Everything on the table now – including 5v5 play – does point to the Flames struggling to suppress pretty much anything. It’s not like they don’t have pieces in place to play similarly to last season and an easy answer to say it’s early on, but it’s never too early to make adjustments.
Finding ways to limit zone entries against might be the first step and to do so it’s going to take a stronger adherence to the formation coupled with an attention to detail on how an enemy power play operates.
It’s not about survival anymore but a battle involving time management and calculated prowess that this team can capable of.
For those who skimmed past it here is a tl;dr for you:
- Play more disruptive while defending in your own end by using the Czech Press to challenge the opposition’s power play formation
- Be more combative in challenging the Senators’ breakout and their efforts to enter cleanly into your end
- Zone entries against are killing this team even if they aren’t always adding up on the score sheet
- Structural weaknesses were really apparent
- The season may be young but it’s time to correct behaviors
* - All shot, goal, and expected goal data cited from Corsica Hockey ** - Derick Brassard's goal came exactly when the penalty expired *** - Support Corsica and Manny Perry's hardwork on Patreon: patreon.com/corsica **** - PBP data missed a shot attempt which accounts for 23 tracked shot attempts from video vs 22 in the game data ***** - Image via Hockey Plays and Strategies by Ryan Walter & Mike Johnston