Photo credit:Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
Jacob Markstrom’s recent heroics should diminish his blame if Calgary Flames miss the playoffs
11 months ago
The tale of the Calgary Flames’ season has been mostly surrounding goaltending. Jacob Markstrom, a Vezina Trophy contender last season, has faltered in most of his starts, while Dan Vladar has also not been as strong as he was last season, although the difference is much more minimal than Markstrom’s.
There have been many ways to approach this dilemma, especially before the trade deadline, and the Flames could still do something like bringing up Dustin Wolf from the American Hockey League. However, Markstrom has had a very strong last few games; for the most part, he’s why they have won.
The 33-year-old netminder has played very well since the end of February, and since head coach Darryl Sutter said the team needs him to get hot. The sample size is small, but the play has been encouraging. Despite being 2-3-0 in March, he sits with a .929 save percentage and one shutout. According to Evolving-Hockey, he has 5.68 goals saved above expected (GSAx) over that span, mainly aided by his incredible performance against the Minnesota Wild.
The recent number of big saves he has made in games feels uncountable. Even the number of big saves he has made in succession on the same offensive play by the opposition continues to be relatively high from game to game. The team in front of him has not been good enough, but it’s been acceptable because Markstrom hasn’t been as vulnerable to weak goals as he was earlier in the season.
It’s important to note that I don’t think Markstrom should be absolved from his struggles early in the year. There’s no excuse for a goalie that was a Vezina finalist and is making the kind of money he does to be as susceptible to soft goals from low-danger places as he was. And his failures in the crease are a significant contributor to the Flames having to fight tooth and nail for a chance at the wild card spot.
However, suppose Markstrom continues to play like he did against Minnesota, Dallas, or Toronto and finishes the regular season in that form. In that case, there needs to be serious consideration of what the issues are. Frankly, the players up front have to find a way around some obstacles that have come their way.
Sutter, in his post-game presser after the team’s loss to the Anaheim Ducks, made a comment that I think summarizes this general situation well, even if it’s pretty obvious.
“Every game is a playoff game for us,” he said.
It’s simple, and many fans know it already, but the team in front of Markstrom must play like they understand the situation. Their goaltender understood this, stepped up when he had to, and moved in that direction. He was challenged by the coach and has done everything in his power to keep his team in games that they should have lost.
Even though the post-season may not be a desirable result for Flames fans, there should not be a doubt that Markstrom, in his most recent starts, has been trying to push them there. His struggles at the beginning of 2022-23 cannot be ignored, as they are a huge reason why the Flames are in this position. However, if he continues to play in this form, it’s hard not to point to other areas before looking at his goaltending down the stretch specifically.
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