How should the Calgary Flames handle their goaltending for the foreseeable future?
Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
10 months ago
If goaltending hasn’t been the hottest topic surrounding the Flames this season, it’s been one of them. Jacob Markstrom’s struggles have been well documented dating back to last year’s second round series with Edmonton, while Dan Vladar’s game continues to improve and evolve. Calgary’s approach between the pipes between now and the end of the season is going to be fascinating.
Of the 70 goalies who have played 500 or more minutes this season, Markstrom ranks 53rd in five-on-five save percentage (0.902) and 49th in overall save percentage (0.895). Vladar, on the other hand, sits 34th and 38th in those same categories at 0.916 and 0.903, respectively.
While neither have posted stellar numbers, it’s tough to dispute Vladar has been the better goaltender this season. As it stands right now, Markstrom is on pace for around 54 starts. That leaves Vladar on pace for around 28, which is significantly higher than his 19 starts from last season. And Vladar’s on-pace numbers could go up, depending on how things go after the All-Star break.
The solution, at least temporarily, seems simple on the surface. On his own merit, Vladar deserves to play more than he has in the final few months of the season. He’s also currently giving the Flames the better opportunity to win hockey games, which can’t be ignored. Calgary is a bubble playoff team and getting two points on a nightly basis seems more urgent in late January than we might have anticipated going into the season.
I’m not suggesting the Flames swap roles and install Vladar as the number one goalie for the rest of the season. I do believe, however, going to a tandem approach for the time being is the way to go. Make decisions more on a game-to-game basis as opposed to the traditional number one/number two setup.
If a goalie plays well, go back to him the next game. If he struggles or isn’t great, make the switch. I’ll be honest; I didn’t think I’d be advocating for something like this at any point this year knowing how well Markstrom played last year en route to being a Vezina Trophy finalist. But here we are.
It doesn’t have to be the permanent approach. A temporary tandem, and the increased internal competition that goes along with it, could be exactly what the doctor ordered to get Markstrom’s game back to where it needs to be. It also would have the byproduct of allowing both goalies to be well rested come playoff team, which feels more important for Markstrom.
I push back hard on the notion the Flames should and/or need to think about trading Markstrom. He’s having a down year, which is something number one goaltenders do from time to time. But knowing Markstrom’s track record in the five years prior, there’s a much better chance he returns to that form as opposed to his struggles continuing in perpetuity.
The best case scenario, both long and short term, is for both goalies to be playing at a high level. It gives the team more flexibility down the stretch and more options come playoff time. Dustin Wolf doesn’t turn 22 until April and we’ve seen the NHL derail more young goalies than it has help them. Being patient, perhaps even overly so, with Wolf feels a lot more desirable than rushing him along, even knowing how good his AHL returns have been.
I believe Markstrom will eventually get his game back to the level we’re accustomed to. I also believe Vladar gives Calgary a better chance to win hockey games right now. Two things can be true at the same time, which is why a dual approach makes a lot of sense in the near future.
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