When Jacob Markstrom signed with the Calgary Flames, his own expectations were probably along the lines of joining a definite contender. The roadmap looked good for Calgary, and he wanted to be a part of the success. Most people would not have bet that Calgary would have had a season like this. Yet, here the Flames are, watching their playoff chances rapidly disappear as time goes on. One on-ice performance is pretty clear, Markstrom has yet to give up and he’s doing everything he can as of late.
Markstrom’s start with the Flames
The Flames heavily deployed Markstrom to start the year off, and as it immediately became clear that they needed to build their safety net in the standings before rotating goalies. Within the first month of the 2020-21 season, Markstrom played 12 of a possible 14 games. Unfortunately the Flames didn’t fare much better in the standings, largely due to offensive struggles, but Markstrom also had his fair share of struggles too.
Just a little past the first quarter of the season, Markstrom ended up injured, his last appearance coming in a game where he was pulled in an eventual 7-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers. He missed play for exactly two weeks before returning to the starter’s net.
Here are some select goaltending stats breaking down Markstrom’s save percentages at varying danger levels as well as his goals against versus expected goals against (xGA) from Natural Stat Trick. HDSV%, MDSV%, and LDSV% represent the high-danger, medium-danger, and low-danger save percentages. All stats are given at all-situations.
His play up until his injury was fairly inconsistent too, with some games where he’d be excellent at all danger levels, while others he’d succumb tough goals, while others he’d stumble against relatively easier shots. In the couple games right before he was injured, his stats took a beating, making for a string of games he’d rather forget.
All in all, this first portion of his season was still solid. It showed why the Flames were so high on him as an free agent signing. He had his stumbles like most goalies do, but was still decent enough when the Flames were not giving any support on offence at all.
Ugly goaltending heading into the NHL trade deadline
As the season went on, the Flames continued to be very consistent at being inconsistent. They’d string together wins and losses in a back-and-forth pattern of renewed hopes and repeated frustrations. Markstrom came back from his injury and did not look the same at all.
In this arbitrary stretch of Markstrom returning up until the NHL trade deadline, the Flames were not good. While Markstrom did string together a few wins and the Flames were looking to turn things in their favour, they ended up with a midseason freefall, losing eight of nine. In this stretch, Markstrom also faced a season-long six game personal losing streak.
|2021-03-06 CGY at EDM||3||2.12||0.909||0.800||0.800||1.000|
This time, Markstrom’s stats were quite average. Some good games, some bad games. While his nightly goals against dropped, he had a couple of stinkers in there, most notably letting in seven against the Oilers in Darryl Sutter‘s first loss behind the Flames’ bench.
Losing as often as he did while not playing particularly poorly would not be good for anyone’s psyche. Again, little support on offence made his average performances turn into not-good-enough performances. Any goalie will have the same answer when asked—they’ll say they needed to be better to help the team get out of their woes.
By this point, the Flames slowly and perhaps begrudgingly shifted into the mindset of being sellers at the deadline. And the returns Calgary got were worth it.
However, the team on the ice wasn’t going to give up on the playoffs, especially not when they were still within reach. In the game right before the deadline, Markstrom emphatically snapped his losing streak all while shutting out Edmonton.
Markstrom has provided stability
As the trade deadline passed, the Flames bidded farewell to David Rittich and Sam Bennett, with the departure of Rittich indicating that the Flames’ net would be entirely Markstrom’s until otherwise needed (poor Louis Domingue). The Flames immediately opted to play Markstrom in back-to-back games against Toronto and Montreal, and he emerged victorious in both.
As the Flames’ pursuit of the Canadiens heated up, Markstrom had the most pressure on him yet. Since the deadline, he’s 5-3-0. It’s not a spectacular record in itself, especially with two of those losses coming against Montreal and another coming from Calgary’s kryptonite in the Ottawa Senators. However, his performance finally started meeting expectations.
He has only given up three goals once in the past eight games, and has otherwise been more stable in the crease. He hasn’t exactly stolen a game for Calgary for a while now, seeing how the expected goals against values as of late have been consistently quite low (this can be credited to the Flames’ improved defensive play).
The fact of the matter is this: for Markstrom to be put in a very clear position of having to bear the entire workload, he’s provided much needed stability for the players in front of him to worry about their own play and not their goaltender’s. The Flames need more offence more than anything, as goaltending is hardly a problem.
That being said, the strategy of overworking a goaltender isn’t always a good one, especially factoring in fatigue and risk of injury. For now, Markstrom is able to play and he’s doing everything that can be asked of him.
The final stretch
The end of the season is rapidly approaching and the Flames are forced to watch to scoreboard as they aren’t solely in control of their playoff fate anymore. Most would have tempered their expectations on the Flames making the playoffs long ago, as the odds have not been and are still not in Calgary’s favour.
However, Markstrom’s been a big reason why the Flames aren’t exactly out of it yet either. The entertainment value of being emotionally invested in Flames games all the way through to the end of the season was an unexpected bonus.
The Flames are six big points back of Montreal with both teams having seven games remaining. Logic and reason would tell us not to hold our breaths at all, but perhaps the recent play of Markstrom might provide just the slightest inkling of hope to keep our eyes on the Flames through to the final buzzer.
Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images