Calgary Flames

Evaluating Jacob Markstrom’s play as his workload increases

The Calgary Flames clinched a playoff spot last weekend and are on their way to clinching top spot in the Pacific Division. Despite their playoff seeding being all but decided at this point of the season, Jacob Markstrom has still started the lion’s share of games down the stretch, and has set a new career-high in games played this season.

Markstrom’s workload has been a hot button topic for the whole season. Many goalie experts and members of the media have commented on how hard it is to get Markstrom to take days off. He’s a player who wants to suit up for every single game, and has been known to play through injuries.

To add fuel to that narrative, Darryl Sutter has a history of riding his number one goalie and playing him every chance he gets. For example, Miikka Kiprusoff started an average of 73 games between 2005 and 2012. As the Flames get closer to making their playoff debut in just a few weeks’ time, Markstrom’s workload will continue to be a major storyline.

We looked into his the past six seasons and broke them down. Let’s take a look at how Markstrom has performed as his workload has increased.

Markstrom’s cumulative save percentage

Markstrom is having a very good year, even by his own standards. This season with the Flames is one of the best statistical seasons of his career, and that is clear to see just by looking at his final SV% year to year.

As the season goes on, of course a number like save percentage will stabilize as each individual game affects the total less and less, but even so, you can clearly see that the 2021–22 season is Markstrom’s best.

Over the course of the whole season, he’s maintained a high save percentage over .920 and though it does appear to dip slightly the last 5 to 10 games, it’s still a very high number overall.

Markstrom has also set a new career-high with 61 games played so far this season, and that will almost surely increase as the Flames play out their remaining few games of the schedule. He still hasn’t hit his career high in TOI though. That mark was set in 2018–19 when he was a member of the Vancouver Canucks. Markstrom is currently sitting at 3575.65 TOI this season.

Markstrom’s five-game rolling average save percentage

This is where it gets a little dicey. When you look at a five-game rolling average of Markstrom’s save percentage over his career, you can see that he does see a dip in performance as the season wears on.

This chart is a big jumbly, but let’s look at it season by season.

  • 2015–16: Markstrom starts hot, then dips around the 17 game mark, then comes back up around game 25, and then dips again to finish the season.
  • 2016–17: He started off rough, but steadily improved until the 16 game mark, and then dipped off again towards the end of the season.
  • 2017–18: Markstrom was up and down for the first half of the season, but by the 25 game mark he stabilized his play and put up fairly decent results. Once again, there is a dip towards the end of the season.
  • 2018–19: The first 10 games of the season are very rough, but the next 10 see significant improvement. The next half of the season is up and down until around the 50 game mark, at which point he takes a dive until the end of the season.
  • 2019–20: Markstrom has a fairly good season, starting out rough once again but bringing his play up by the 20 game mark. It’s up and down from there but he only dips below .900 for a small stretch and actually finishes the year on an upward trend.
  • 2020–21: This was a very erratic season. Markstrom started off strong, but then dipped significantly by the 20 game mark. He steadily brought his play up, but saw a steep drop off in the final ~10 games of the season.
  • 2021–22: Markstrom started the year with unbelievably good play, steadily seeing him drop as he hit the 25 game mark. From there it was an impressive climb back up to around the 40 game mark, and then up and down from there to the end of the season. Right now, he’s in a bit of a downward trend.

Sensing a theme? Markstrom has often tailed off as the season came to a close. The only time this didn’t happen is 2019–20. This was a shorter year due to COVID and the Canucks made some noise in the bubble, which I think is important context.

The other seasons where Markstrom tailed off, the games really didn’t matter as much. The Canucks finished outside the playoff picture in every year except for 2019–20. In 2020–21, the Flames were pretty much out of the playoffs with 10 games left. This season, the Flames were a lock to make the playoffs and win the Pacific Division with 20 games left.

Here’s a closer look at just this season for reference:

As his workload increases, there doesn’t really seem to be a trend on the whole. Yes, his play does seem to drop off as the season comes to a close, but I think there are other factors at play for that happening, and not necessarily due to a high workload.

As all goalies experience, Markstrom goes through ups and downs throughout the course of any season. This season has seen him play more games than ever before, but his overall results are better than any other season in his career. Just looking at this season’s chart, even during Markstrom’s current dip, he’s still over the .900 mark.

Markstrom thrives in high pressure situations

From this evidence, it appears to me that Markstrom isn’t a goalie who crumbles as the workload increases, rather he thrives in high pressure situations and when the games matter.

In all but one season in the bulk of his career as a starting goalie, his team was either out of the playoff race entirely, or so comfortably in the playoffs that it really didn’t matter how he played in goal.

At this point of the season, the games really don’t matter for the Flames. They’ve got the Pacific Division all but clinched and Markstrom’s primary goal right now is to stay limber, not get hurt, and make sure he’s ready to go for the first game of the playoffs.

I wouldn’t chalk up his recent dip in play—or his dip in play towards the end of other seasons—to him burning out due to high workload. He’s an elite goaltender who know the difference between a game against the Vegas Golden Knights that really didn’t matter, and the first game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

To wrap up the season, he might only start half the games, but even if he does end up starting more often than not, that’s no reason to worry. Sutter has a plan and Markstrom will not compromise his body or mind now just for the sake of it. He’ll be ready to go for the playoffs, and we should expect top tier goaltending from him when round one starts.

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