When you’re trying to get a sense of how a team has been playing lately, it’s a good idea to check the current streak the team is on. You can tell the Seattle Kraken are playing well — they’ve won their last six games. Likewise, you can see the Nashville Predators are gearing up for a push for a wildcard spot when they have a 4W in that column.
It goes the other way. After a brilliant 8-1-0 stretch, you can see the Buffalo Sabres stumbling a bit with two straight losses. The Arizona Coyotes, with a glaring 6L, might mean it’s safe to assume starter Karel Vejmelka is getting tired.
Then there is the odd duck of the NHL’s “STRK” column. That being the Calgary Flames and a bizarre 2OT. It’s rather uncommon for any team to get to overtime consecutively and lose out on the extra point on both nights. Unless you’re the Flames.
Overtime Troubles For the Calgary Flames
Calgary has lost consecutive games in overtime four times this season. Three instances of two in a row and one instance of three in a row.
The team skippered by Darryl Sutter has lost 25 regular season games and won 19 just over halfway through the 22-23 regular season. Despite losing 55% of their games, their ability to squeeze the game into overtime has kept them in the number one wildcard spot in the Western Conference as of January 11.
Their ability to reach overtime has secured nine points, if the Flames were to reach just the league average of overtime losses at 4.46, or four if we’re rounding down, then we would see them in 11th place in the Western Conference and three points out of a wildcard spot.
On the other hand, if they were to win their overtime games at a similar rate that the leaders of their division do — they would be much more comfortable in the standings. The Vegas Golden Knights have locked down eight points by scoring in overtime or winning the shootout. The Los Angeles Kings have gotten seven via the same method. Calgary has earned three. Two in extra time and one in the shootout.
Calgary sits nine and seven points behind Vegas and LA respectively. Earning only 15 of 24 points from their overtime games has them facing the prospect of falling out of the playoff picture once Nashville and the Colorado Avalanche catch up in games played. The Predators are three and four points behind the Flames’ 47 — with three games in hand.
This all begs the question.
Why are the Calgary Flames struggling so greatly after regulation time ends?
Overtime Games Come in Bunches
If the Calgary Flames go to overtime in the 2022-23 season, it’s a safe bet that they will go overtime again in a few days. In fact, there is only one instance where the Flames haven’t gone back to overtime within five days of playing beyond regulation time.
November 5-7? Two overtime losses.
November 19-23? A shootout win, a shootout loss and a 5-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers in between.
December 10-14? Two shootout losses and an overtime loss.
December 22-23? A shootout win and a shootout loss.
The most recent of these bizarre sequences came in their most recent two games. November 8-10 featured consecutive overtime losses to the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues.
What we can take from this is that the Flames are more likely to play a tight-to-the-belt style — and lose after regulation time — when the schedule becomes more intense. Eight of nine extra points surrendered from OT and shootout came from contests where they had only one full day off between games.
It may be fair to say fatigue can be underlined as a reason, but surely there’s more explanation needed.
It Is Not Ideal to Kill Penalties in Overtime
You can split the nine overtime losses into three neat categories.
Shootout losses, overtime losses at even strength, and overtime losses at 4v3. The Calgary Flames have lost three of each to total nine losses in overtime.
While there are no repeat offenders, Jonathan Huberdeau, Rasmus Andersson, and Tyler Toffoli have all watched a game end while in the penalty box.
It’s easy for fans to pile on goaltender Jacob Markstrom, but his three-on-three play isn’t an area to criticize. His first even-strength overtime goal allowed came on January 10 — a Robert Thomas one-timer on a two-on-one. Markstrom actually has a better save percentage at three-on-three (.909) than he does at five-on-five(.900).
Unfortunately for the 6’6” netminder, the Flames have a penchant for putting themselves at a disadvantage when it matters most. Markstrom has allowed two goals on four shots at four-on-three. Daniel Vladar has fared no better. The 25-year-old backup has saved two of three on the penalty kill in overtime.
While it’s fair to assume Vladar doesn’t like killing penalties after regulation, it’s also fair to assume he likes shootouts even less.
The Flames Goalie Platoon Hates Shootouts
Vladar has saved one of four shots in the shootout. He’s tied with Ilya Samsonov for the third-worst save percentage after overtime concludes.
Markstrom is better, but not exceptional. He’s saved four of ten for a .600 save percentage.
Losing in the shootout appears to wilt that self-esteem flower for Flames goalies. Losing in this competition has been followed up by a combined 1-0-3 record in the next appearance.
But a .250 win rate in shootouts doesn’t entirely fall at the feet of the goalies.
Confounding Shooter Selection
Head coach Darryl Sutter makes one or two solid decisions every shootout.
With no one to pass to — Jonathan Huberdeau has no choice but to put the puck in the net. The silky winger from Saint-Jerome has three goals in four shots this season. Rasmus Andersson has gotten the tap three of four times. He has two goals in three shots.
Unfortunately, that’s about all the Flames have going for them.
No other Calgary Flames member has scored after overtime. Backlund and Kadri are 0-for-3 each. Ruzicka and Dube have both missed one. Sutter is a great coach, but maybe it’s time he simplified it down to minor-league policy. Did you miss? Some other kid shoots next time.
Backlund has scored once in 12 shots over his shootout career. Darryl has already learned his lesson with Tyler Toffoli during their LA years. The Flames sniper has one goal in 15 attempts, and Trevor Lewis has a miraculous one goal in six shots. That being that it’s miraculous that Lewis has had six kicks at the can in total.
Meanwhile, Dillon Dube is one-for-two in his career. Noah Hanifin, one-for-three. Both are likely better bets than an 8.3% successful Backlund.
Darryl Sutter is a great coach and Mikael Backlund is a great player, but maybe those two should extend their input to formats that require passing.
Many fans will say things like “You don’t have to worry about three-on-three or shootout in the playoffs.” Fair. That said, if minor and major tweaks aren’t made to the above recurring issues, you can go ahead and take “three-on-three or shootout in” out of that statement.