|Mike Keenan doesn't just look at numbers, he crunches them.
Watch Mike Keenan's Flames in action
Showing he's as familiar with Benjamin Graham (Security Analysis, 1934) as he is with John Grahame (3.75 goals-against average, .875 save percentage), Keenan doesn't just look at numbers, he crunches them. While Keenan didn't exactly demand greater transparency in the reporting of season-to-date statistics, he made a good point about the value of breaking down a season into quarters.
While the Flames have been contesting the Northwest Division lead throughout the season, they rank 17th in allowing 2.78 goals-per-game. Keenan argues that Calgary is better than that, certainly recently.
"Our goals-against statistic is skewed because for the first 60 days this season we were trying to assemble a new set of defensive pairings while Miikka Kiprusoff was, frankly, not on top of his game," Keenan said. "We have improved dramatically in the second half. Our penalty killing doesn't look good statistically, either, but it is. It's hard to make up ground over time.
"In the business world, analysts are not as focused on the annual report as the quarterly reports and I think that's the case with us. When you punch in all the data, it doesn't necessarily reflect what we've been doing recently, in terms of the last 10 or 20 games. If you broke it down quarterly, it would look completely different.
"Starting the season, we were below average before that six-game road trip. Our power play has improved 30 percent and our penalty killing has improved 95 percent. We're still maintaining our strength in 5-on-5 play and we've bolstered our special teams."
Keenan was referring to the six straight road victories the Flames posted between Dec. 9-18. The Flames are atop the Northwest Division, which would give them the third seed in the playoffs if the season ended today. They are tied for the fourth-best record in the Western Conference and are tied for the eighth-best record in the League. They're the 10th-best at getting points, 74 out of a potential 126, or 59 percent.
"We thought we would be two or three points better than we are," Keenan said. "We are in the ballpark of where we thought we might be. ... The standings are a little skewed in that Dallas and Anaheim have played three more games. We have games in hand, but it doesn't mean a thing if you don't win them. We are in the top third of teams in the League, but we're also in the most competitive division and that plays into it. This is one particularly competitive division."
Calgary is a team full of statistical anomalies. The Flames' 28.6 shots-per-game ranks 19th, but their 2.81 goals-per-game is much better, 12th-best in the NHL.
"We are a team that does not have a shot mentality and we're trying to promote that in our group," Keenan said. "We try to make the setup pass to get a more perfect goal. Some teams do have a shot mentality. They know that if they take enough shots, something is liable to go in.
"We are promoting more shooting than we have used in games. There is some credence to shooting more, even if it's not the perfect shot. Because of the athletic ability of NHL goaltenders and the positioning of defenses and forwards, there is a benefit from shooting more often, rather than try to make the perfect pass."
If the Flames lack a "shot mentality," they certainly have a skate-hard, hit-hard mentality. Phoenix Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky lamented the advantage the Flames had over his team in a Calgary 4-1 road victory last Tuesday.
"They beat us to every loose puck,” Gretzky told reporters. “They took hits to make plays."
"Your best players have to be your best players every night," has become a mantra among NHL coaches in the new era. One reason why Calgary is enjoying success this season is because Keenan is getting top efforts out of his best players. His top six forwards and top three defensemen all have significantly positive plus-minus numbers.
Superstar right winger and captain Jarome Iginla leads the Flames and is tied for seventh in the NHL with a plus-23 rating. First-line center Daymond Langkow is plus-12 and left winger Kristian Huselius is plus-10. Second-line center Craig Conroy is plus-8 while his right winger, Owen Nolan, is plus-6 and left winger Alex Tanguay is plus-13.