In the 2020 off-season, goaltender Jacob Markstrom had options after leaving the Vancouver Canucks to explore free agency. Reportedly both the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers made overtures, but Markstrom ended up signing a six year, $36 million deal to join the Flames.
After the first game of their best-of-seven series, it’s clear that Markstrom may be the key to the Flames beating the Oilers and advancing to the next round.
Yesterday at OilersNation, our colleague Zach Laing claimed that Markstrom is the key to the Oilers winning the series. He’s both right and wrong.
The numbers for Markstrom against the Oilers don’t lie. Over the past two seasons, he has an all-situations save percentage against the Oilers of .884. His save percentage against the entire league in that span is .915, so obviously he’s struggling against the Oilers – relative to his performances against other teams.
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But bundling his numbers together hides a bit of context, and the context is the key to both Markstrom’s bounce-back season with the Flames and the remainder of the series.
Let’s be blunt here, friends: the Flames were not a particularly good team under Geoff Ward to begin the 2020-21 season. If they had been, Brad Treliving wouldn’t have opted to pull the ripcord and lure Darryl Sutter from the farm to coach the Flames.
So here’s the context from that awful season:
  • Markstrom started one game against the Oilers in early February under Ward’s staff. He allowed four goals (two even strength, two on the power play) and the Flames won 6-4.
  • His next game against Edmonton was Feb. 20, just three days after he suffered a concussion in a collision with Vancouver’s Tanner Pearson. (He dressed as backup to David Rittich on Feb. 19.) Markstrom gave up five goals (three even strength, two on the power play) before getting pulled mid-game, and the Flames lost 7-1. He went on the injury reserve a couple days later.
  • Markstrom’s return to action after his concussion was Mar. 6 against the Oilers, during an awkward two game interim coaching stretch for Ryan Huska – Sutter had been hired but was going through the COVID quarantine before he could coach. Markstrom gave up three goals (all even strength) and they lost 3-2.
  • Markstrom made six more appearances against the Oilers that season, going 3-3-0 with a .901 save percentage as the team played a more cohesive defensive structure under Sutter. He allowed 16 goals in those six games, six of them from the Oilers’ power play.
The 2020-21 Flames were a mess. They weren’t good defensively. Their breakdowns turned every scoring chance into a good scoring chance for the opposition, and they got sliced and diced by the speed and skill of the Oilers. Their numbers against the Oilers reflect the play of the team as much as the play of their goaltenders.
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The 2021-22 Flames are a lot better at supporting their goalie and not allowing a slew of great scoring chances. And with Markstrom avoiding injuries and not experiencing a coaching change mid-season, he hasn’t really had as much trouble with the Oilers as he did last season.
His save percentage against the whole league jumped from .922 from .904 last season, and to .926 from .916 at even strength. His save percentage against the Oilers has remained stagnant overall – .884 in each season – though his even strength save percentage has jumped from .902 last season to .928 this season.
If you’re asking why his overall performance is unchanged, the answer is simple: the Oilers’ power play. This season, Markstrom has allowed 14 goals against the Oilers: half of them have been power play markers.
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At five-on-five, the Flames probably don’t have anything to worry about with Markstrom. He was less than good in Game 1, but he’s been one of the NHL’s best goaltenders during the regular season and is a very well-deserving Vezina Trophy finalist. But the Oilers’ power play has been his Kryptonite this season (and last); a team’s goaltender has to be their best penalty-killer, and Markstrom simply needs to find a way to consistently shut the door on the Oilers’ power play.
If he can do that, the Flames will be well on their way to a berth in the Western Conference Final.

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