Calgary Flames

Looking at whether the Calgary Flames actually play better when Vladar is in net compared to Markstrom

The Calgary Flames have had lots of ups and downs throughout the 2022–23 season. Things started off hot, cooled down to sub-zero temperatures, and then just when things started to look good again they’re not in hockey purgatory with no real momentum in any direction.

One of their problems this season has been the differences in on-ice product when Jacob Markstrom is the goalie versus when Dan Vladar is in net. This is currently a problem for the team and it has the potential to get worse as the Flames are struggling to get their Vezina-calibre starter back to form.

The results are pretty clear already: Vladar is boasting a franchise record point streak, and Markstrom has won just one game so far in the 2023 calendar year. However, how much of it is due to individual goaltending and how much is from how the Flames play? Let’s take a look.

Calgary’s performance based on each goalie

So far, Markstrom has started 33 games and Vladar 17. That’s almost exactly a two to one ratio. However, Markstrom has just 13 wins while Vladar has 11. Across traditional metrics, Vladar’s 2.77 GAA and .904 SV% is far better than Markstrom’s 2.86 GAA and .893 SV%.

From a goaltending perspective alone, Vladar has played better hockey than Markstrom all season long. Looking at how the players have fared per goalie will give better insights too.

On-ice offence

The Flames have taken a significant step back on offence this season. It’s a large reason why they’re not winning as often as they continue to have league-low shooting percentages. Taking a look at key offensive metrics might reveal the most pressing issue that one goalie is facing that the other is not. All stats are 5v5, score- and venue-adjusted from

Stats are shown as both percentages and rates to get more context on how different the Flames are based on which goalie is in net.


The biggest standout metric here is on-ice shooting percentage. The Flames are shooting at 9.29% when Vladar plays, while are scoring much less often when Markstrom plays with just a 6.97% scoring rate. As a result of this, the Flames score way more goals with Vladar. Their goals for per sixty is nearly an entire goal more when Vladar is net versus when Markstrom is.

In terms of both Corsi and expected goals, the two goalies are seeing similar ratios—the Flames typically get the lion’s share of possession regardless of who’s in net. However, there’s really no clear causal effect on how a goalie might impact a team’s offence given almost all plays do not stem from the goaltender.

So in summary, the Flames have gotten much better offensive results with Vladar in net than with Markstrom. While the on-ice play is similar, the Flames simply convert on their chances more often with one goalie versus the other. That’s the biggest effect—on-ice shooting and resulting goal scoring rates—which almost certainly is not affected by the goalie playing. When the Flames have Markstrom in net, they just simply do not score as often—much to his dismay.

On-ice defence

We can look at similar results on defence. We already know that much like the offence, the defence has suffered this year compared to last. The entire Calgary Flames’ defensive product is worse this season. Looking at a similar table to the one above except with defensive metrics may be the most telling of them all. Let’s see if there’s anything of note.


One thing to note on the tables, the against percentage values, e.g. CA%, xGA%, and GA% are just the complements of the for percentage values. Rates however, are independent.

On defence, the differences are primarily goalie-driven. Markstrom has a much worse save percentage than Vladar. NHL goaltending differences between elite versus replacement level play is mere single-digit percentages, so this is a major concern. The direct correlation here is seen as the Flames give up an 2.60 goals per sixty with Markstrom compared to just 2.32 when Vladar.

Of course, things differ game by game, but on aggregate Markstrom’s own GF/60 vs GA/60 sees a negative overall effect where opposition tends to outscore the Flames. This isn’t the case with Vladar though, as the Flames outscore their opposition by almost exactly one goal for every 60 minutes.

Interestingly, while the Flames allow slightly more shot attempts when Vladar is on the ice, it looks like their defence is slightly better as their xGA/60 is still lower. More importantly, their actual GA/60 is much lower too. Vladar is playing much closer to expected, while Markstrom is severely underperforming.

The differences between the on-ice defence isn’t too crazy when comparing Markstrom and Vladar. However, the actual goaltending itself is the biggest problem.

The problem starts from within the crease

Looking at the stats above and combining it with the eye test, there’s definitely some evidence that the Flames play better hockey when Vladar is in net. They both generate more offence and score more on their chances. However, on defence, the differences are much narrower and there is weaker evidence that the Flames have worse defensive results with one goalie versus the other.

However, the starkest differences between goalies are their own save percentages and the team’s goals for and against rates. When Markstrom plays, the Flames get scored on more, and the stats suggest it’s more goalie-driven than it is defence-driven. Unfortunately, also when Markstrom plays, the Flames score much, much less. The offence itself just does not convert on their chances despite being fairly similar.

Some teams can hide the impacts of weak goaltending with strong offence. Some teams do this independently of who’s in their own net. The Flames, at least this season, don’t appear to be one of these teams. Their offence is unable to bail out Markstrom but is able to help Vladar when in reality it’s Markstrom that needs the help right now while Vladar can at least hold his own.

Now or never

It’s a dire situation the Flames find themselves in as their games available for Markstrom to regain his form is rapidly diminishing in an ultra-tight Western Conference playoff race. The Flames are at a crossroads where they seriously risk leaving points on the table while trying to help Markstrom find his confidence (recency bias says look no further than their recent game against the Blackhawks).

The logical answer is to run with Vladar for as much as possible. If the Flames’ playoffs hope disappears and Vladar falters under the added pressure, at least the Flames know they gave themselves the best shot. If they keep playing Markstrom instead, they’re at risk of shooting themselves in the foot.

The best course of action is to utilise both goalies in a way that helps the team. Markstrom is in need of a longer reset and Vladar is currently one of the most reliable goalies in the league right now. The math just adds up.

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