Tough road trip sees same old struggles, narratives return for Flames

The Calgary Flames have come out of the gate looking a lot like the puzzling underachievers they were in 2022-23.

The Calgary Flames entered the campaign with a new GM and a new coach — and the very first game of the season defied its pattern from a painful 2022-23.

But since that night in Calgary on October 11, the issues the team experienced last season have come flooding back.

The 2022-23 Flames played organized, responsible two-way hockey — and dominated possession — only to see their best offensive weapons fail to convert at a reasonable rate and their goaltenders do top-rate sieve impressions.

Unfortunately for Calgary, that's also been the story in recent days.

During the team's 1-3-1 road trip the Flames outshot their opponents 180-138 and their expected goal rate at 5v5 is 59.67% with a 65.82% share of the high-danger chances. Those numbers both rank second in the NHL over that time span.

All that good work has been undermined by the fact Calgary has shot 5.8% at 5v5 and 6.1% overall. Meanwhile, their save percentage has sat at .846 at 5v5 and .855 overall.

Daniel Vladar hasn't been able to keep pucks out of his net so far in 2023-24. (Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)
Daniel Vladar hasn't been able to keep pucks out of his net so far in 2023-24. (Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

The players the team imported to form the core after Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau left town have also been on the quiet side. Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri have combined for 5 points in six games.

Other guys the team was hoping to get an offensive boost from have been a mixed bag. Adam Ružička has been productive in the early going, but offseason acquisition Yegor Sherangovich hasn't been much of a threat — and rookie Matthew Coronado has yet to pop.

Coming into the season there was reason to believe Calgary would be better at finishing, but they haven't provided much evidence of that yet.

The goaltending side of the equation is a touch more hopeful, at least. Most of the brutal numbers put up in that respect can be directly traced to backup Daniel Vladar. Starter Jacob Markström has held his own, posting a league-average .905 save percentage.

Markström's numbers aren't fantastic considering he's a highly-paid veteran ($6 million AAV) who was a Vezina Trophy runner-up as recently as 2020-21 — but they are manageable for a team that suppresses shots well. They also provide some evidence that the 33-year-old isn't cooked after a rough minus-18.4 GSAA season in 2022-23.

There is still plenty of reason to be optimistic about Calgary overall. It would be easy to see their early underlying metrics and come to the conclusion that if they stay the course results will come — particularly if Markström can bounce back.

In fact, if any other team were doing what the Flames are doing now they might be considered sleepers to break out in the weeks ahead. With that in mind, Calgary deserves the benefit of the doubt.

The problem is, we've seen this story play out before with the same team just last year. While the Flames have made some tweaks, this team hasn't changed too much. The difficulty scoring goals despite excellent chance creation also fits with our understanding of the players on this roster.

This is not a team packed with talented, proven scorers.

Calgary could easily buck its recent trend and see the scoreboard come in line with the way it carries the play. It might even be fair to characterize that as a likely scenario.

It's just tough to shake what we know about the Flames from last year — especially when the team has done such an immaculate job of recreating its 2022-23 foibles.