Flames’ Cinderella Season Crashing Down Against Better, More Experienced Ducks

The Anaheim Ducks are a runaway freight train with six straight wins to open the Stanley Cup playoffs — the first team since the 2008 Pittsburgh Penguins to accomplish this feat.

There is little the Calgary Flames can do to stop them after two demoralizing Round 2 losses, most recently a 3-0 defeat Sunday night in Anaheim.

The Flames have defied the odds and analytics all season. They were the third-worst puck possession team (using even-strength Corsi-for percentage) in the NHL this season and their PDO, a stat that combines save and shot percentage and is used to show how much luck a team had, was the third-highest at even strength.

Calgary overcame its inability to consistently possess the puck with, among other things, 10 wins when trailing after two periods and a high penalty differential.

The Flames haven’t been able to find any of that late-game magic against the Ducks, who are more skilled, more physical, more experienced and have better goaltending.

There are a few areas where Calgary needs to improve dramatically to save its season. For starters, it must do a better job defending Anaheim’s two superstar forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Getzlaf has a goal and five assists in two games and 10 points in the postseason overall. Perry has two goals and four assists versus the Flames and leads the playoffs with 13 points despite playing in just six games.

Defending two of the league’s best forwards is a challenge for any blue line, but it’s even more difficult for one that’s missing a Norris Trophy-caliber defenseman such as Mark Giordano (bicep injury). T.J. Brodie is an excellent blueliner, but he’s not going to shut down this duo by himself.

One specific area the Flames must clean up against the Getzlaf/Perry duo and the entire group of Ducks forwards is the slot. The quality of Anaheim’s shot attempts has been very high, as the following War on Ice charts show (Game 1 on left, Game 2 on right).

 

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Karri Ramo played pretty well in Game 2 and kept the score 1-0 until the final half of the third period. He gave up two goals on 33 shots, which was a significant improvement from Game 1 when former Duck Jonas Hiller allowed three goals on 14 shots in just 22 minutes.

Regardless of how well Ramo plays, Calgary will need its own best forwards to step up and produce offensively. The Flames’ three most talented forwards — Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Jiri Hudler — are all scoreless in this series. Monahan and Hudler have been shut down through two games by former Selke Trophy-winning center Ryan Kesler and his linemates Jakob Silfverberg and Matt Beleskey.

The Flames surprised everyone by making the playoffs and knocking out the defending champion Los Angeles Kings in the process. Many of their young players have taken positive steps in their development and have gained valuable playoff experience.

But for the Flames to even this series and sustain this season’s success into 2015-16, they must play a more puck-possession game. Constantly getting outshot against better teams and having to make dramatic third-period comebacks isn’t a recipe for long-term success. Just ask the Colorado Avalanche, who took a major step back this season after overcoming poor possession numbers to win the Central Division in 2013-14.

Thumbnail photo via Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY Sports Images

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