The Calgary Flames made a commitment to the goaltending position when Brad Treliving signed Jacob Markstrom to a six-year, $36M contract in the 2020 offseason. They wanted stability in net, and they got it. Whether the contract will be worth it through all six years is yet to be determined, but one thing no one expected Markstrom to do was make a mark in the NHL history books in his second season with the Flames.
In his first year with the team, Markstrom did not live up to expectations. He had a good start, but after he went down with an injury, his return and consequent overall season results were unfortunately among the worst in the league. Just one offseason later and Markstrom has found his way into the NHL record books—doing so in way that is exceedingly rare.
In nine starts so far, Markstrom has a record of 5–1–3, boasts a save percentage of 0.942, a goals against average of 1.65, a goals saved above expected of 5.63 (per Evolving-Hockey.com), and most impressively, four shutouts.
Prior to this season, Markstrom has posted eight shutouts in his career—five with the Vancouver Canucks over his last three seasons with the team, and three with the Flames last year. He did not post a single shutout during his time with the Florida Panthers, and none in his first four seasons with Vancouver.
It wasn’t until Ryan Miller signed with the Anaheim Ducks in the 2017 offseason and Markstrom was given the reins as the Canucks’ starter before he earned his first career shutout in 2017–18. Markstrom’s first ever NHL shutout came on December 5, 2017, in his 19th start of the season when the Canucks faced off against the Carolina Hurricanes.
You might have guessed it by now, Markstrom putting himself in the NHL history books has everything to do with his shutouts so far.
Markstrom’s shutout dominance marks a first in 15 years
For Markstrom to earn four shutouts in a season for the first time in his career is remarkable in itself. In the salary cap era (since 2005–06), a goaltender recording four or more shutouts in a single season has only been done 249 times, most of which coming as repeats by goaltenders over different seasons. So the number of goaltenders with four or more shutouts in a season is even smaller.
Four shutouts in nine starts is a shutout percentage of 44.4%. Not to make ill-fitting comparisons, but that’s better than some teams’ overall win percentages right now. The Flames have been dominant on defence, and Markstrom has been dominant in net.
Markstrom is the first netminder of 2021–22 to post four shutouts, and hopefully he isn’t done yet. He’s trailed by Ilya Sorokin with three, Jake Allen with two, and nine others with one shutout apiece.
The part that makes Markstrom’s performance noteworthy in the NHL history books is how quickly he recorded his fourth shutout.
Markstrom is nearly unmatched
In the salary cap era, Markstrom’s performance has not been seen since 2007–08, when Pascal Leclaire posted four shutouts in six starts with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Leclaire went on to record nine shutouts over 52 starts. Interestingly, Leclaire posted his fifth shutout on his ninth start.
Here’s a list of comparable goaltending performances since 2005–06, listed first by reverse chronological order, then by games taken to reach four shutouts. The table shows how many games it took each goaltender to reach their fourth shutout of the season, as well as how many shutouts they ended up with by the end of said season. The cutoff to reach four shutouts is 20 games played, which is a pace more than twice as slow compared to Markstrom’s nine games.
Note that the games played to reach four shutouts count does not differentiate between starts versus relief appearances—due to difficulty in acquiring the data. Since it’d be impossible to earn a shutout in a relief appearance, context is given instead by showing each goaltender’s total shutouts and starts. All data from Hockey-Reference.com.
|Player||Season||Team||GP to Reach 4 SO||Total SO||Total Starts|
*Markstrom’s total shutouts and starts in progress.
Giving context to Markstrom’s mark
So in the entire salary cap era of the NHL—which spans 17 seasons so far—Markstrom’s start of getting four shutouts in nine games was beat only one time. A total of 20 goaltenders reached at least four shutouts in 20 games played or less, which shows just how rare it is to have such an insane start to any single season.
Besides Markstrom and Leclaire, every other goaltender took double digit games played before reaching four shutouts. Tim Thomas was closest in 2010–11 taking 11 games, while three other goaltenders took 13.
What is also incredible about this list is that despite there being elite goaltenders with multiple impressive overall seasons, the metric of four quick shutouts to start a season was only ever repeated twice by two goaltenders: Henrik Lundqvist and Marc-Andre Fleury. Lundqvist reached four shutouts in 14 games in 2007–08, and did it again in 16 games in 2014–15. Fleury did so in 14 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2014–15 and then in 20 games with the Vegas Golden Knights in 2018–19. Every other goaltender in this list can only say they’ve done it once, which makes it an accolade worthy of high praise.
Plenty more hockey to come
The season is young and the race to the most shutouts for 2021–22 is just barely beginning. Only time will tell if Markstrom will continue to pace the league or if others will leapfrog him by season’s end.
No matter the outcome, Markstrom has placed himself in elite company with his start to the season. The Flames are one of the best two-way teams in the NHL right now and everything is clicking with the team so far in their start. Their offence is scoring when they need to, their defence is preventing chances, and their goaltending clearly has been otherworldly.
Let’s see if this continues for the Flames as the season progresses and see if Markstrom can add more to the record books with his goaltending.
Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images