Darryl Sutter should have gone with Dan Vladar over Jacob Markstrom against Chicago

Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Middleton
1 year ago
“Turnovers cost us the hockey game,” said head coach Darryl Sutter when speaking to the media after a massive loss for the Calgary Flames to the bottom-dwelling Chicago Blackhawks.
It’s true. The Flames lost to one of the worst teams in the NHL, if not the worst, because they were careless with the puck and allowed far too many chances. And I’d like to mention that I don’t think the loss was on Jacob Markstrom. Maybe he could have made a save or two, but for the most part, the team in front of him left him out to dry.
The difference in starts between the two Flames goaltenders is massive. Since the beginning of March, Markstrom has played 17 games. Vladar has started one game and come into the crease in relief of Markstrom in two others, and that’s the only time ice time he has seen. Of course, the logic is that you want your best goaltender in net to give your team the best chance to win, and that’s perfectly acceptable. However, at some point, as we’ve seen with plenty of goaltenders around the league, there’s the possibility of burnout. And when you can give your number one guy a chance to rest, why not do so?
Vladar, in his one start (against another bottom-dwelling team in the Anaheim Ducks) on Mar. 21, played very well. He only allowed one goal on 20 shots. Even though he, like Markstrom, wasn’t the greatest we’ve ever seen him through the first half of the season, and the Flames weren’t in a position to be flipping back and forth constantly, there have been times where a start for the backup seemed on the horizon, and Sutter still went with his number one. There were a couple of times when that choice backfired too.
Of course, hindsight is always 20/20, and I acknowledge that the fact the Flames lost to Chicago is helping to aid this narrative. Why start Markstrom if the result was a loss anyway, and he didn’t do much to keep it from happening?
Now, someone who shares the mindset of Sutter could argue that the loss to the Blackhawks sparked Markstrom’s performance in the huge win against the Winnipeg Jets. He even said he was “still pissed off from the other night” when speaking to the media following the game.
“I think (that) fed into it a little bit coming into this game – a little bit more emotions than usual. It was a great atmosphere and a great win,” Markstrom said.
And as great as it is that Markstrom knew he had to bounce back, it shouldn’t take losing to the Blackhawks to get him into gear and using the win against Winnipeg as justification for a questionable decision when the best is needed every night over this next and final handful of games doesn’t sit well with me.
Anyone could argue with anyone about the hypothetical scenario in which Vladar is the starter for the game. Does he win the game for the Flames? Do they play differently in front of him, and that leads to a win? We will never know. But any opportunity to rest your top guy after running him into the ground over the last five weeks feels like one that a head coach should take and run with. It gives Markstrom the night off and shows trust in Vladar to win them a big game while not sacrificing the bigger game for the number one.
The Flames beating the Jets was huge for playoff implications, and the loss to the Blackhawks looks like it could be costly to their chances for a post-season berth. Whether or not Vladar wins the game could be debated until the end of time, but that’s not the point. The point is that it feels slightly concerning the coach wouldn’t find time to rest his primary goalie. Even though I’m sure Markstrom doesn’t want to be sat for games with significant implications, it might be beneficial down the stretch.

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