Flames Have the Best Goaltending Duo in the NHL

The Calgary Flames were one of the hottest teams in the NHL out of the gate, riding a 10-game point streak and battling for the top spot in the Western Conference. In a true reversal of fortune, the last 10 days have seen the Flames cool off substantially and drop four out of their last five contests. While the boys in red have suffered a serious offensive power outage in recent days, the one thing that hasn’t changed from game one of the season has been the absolutely stellar performance of Calgary’s number one goaltender Jacob Markstrom and his rookie backup Dan Vladar.

Jacob Markstrom and Daniel Vladar Calgary Flames
Jacob Markstrom, Daniel Vladar (The Hockey Writers)

Just how good has the Flames’ goaltending duo been? Well, even a cursory glance at the stats page on NHL.com shows both Calgary netminders near the top of every major category. Shutouts? Markstrom sits alone at number one with four, while Vladar is tied for sixth with one. Goals-against average (GAA)? Markstrom is fifth with a 1.82 GAA and Vladar is right behind in sixth place with a 1.96 GAA. Save percentage (SV%)? “Marky” is once again in the fifth spot with a .938 SV% while his young backup is just a smidge behind at .933 SV%.

These impressive numbers add up to a very potent 1-2 punch that has kept this team very much in contention despite the recent slide. No other NHL squad currently has both of their goalies excelling at the exact same time, making the Flames’ dynamic duo the envy of the league.

Markstrom Already Has Hit a Career High for Shutouts in a Season

Markstrom signed a six-year, $36 million contract in the 2020 offseason and the move was heralded as the long-term solution to the Flames goaltending woes after more than a decade of instability between the pipes. Unfortunately, the big Swede did not live up to expectations after a solid start to the Covid-shortened 2020-21 campaign, posting overall season results that were among the worst in the league.

Related: Flames 2021 Report Cards: Jacob Markstrom

Markstrom’s excellent start to the 2021-22 season has already put him in the Vezina Trophy conversation, with four shutouts in his first 12 games. To put that into context, the 6-foot-6 netminder only has eight career shutouts since making his NHL debut in the 2010-11 season. If the Flames are hoping for a bounceback year after missing the playoffs last season, it will likely be on the back of Markstrom.

Over the past two seasons, there’s been a lot of chatter about the Flames overplaying “Marky” and not giving the big Swede enough downtime. (from ‘Are the Flames overworking Jacob Markstrom, The Athletic, 02/19/21) Tuesday’s contest in Philadelphia marked his 57th start since the start of the 2020-21 season – the most in the NHL. As good as he’s been, I do find that Markstrom’s play starts to slip after too many consecutive starts and he seemed to acknowledge this in a postgame media scrum after last Thursday’s loss to the Habs.

“Three goals. Not good enough. I think that’s an easy way to assess it,” he told reporters in Montreal. “In the third, we need to come up with a couple of saves to keep the tide and give the guys a chance to win. I’m disappointed.”

This is precisely why the strong performance from the Flames’ back-up netminder has been so crucial this season. Every time Markstrom got back into the crease after one of Vladar’s starts, the Flames’ number one puck stopper has been magnificent. Against the Rangers on Oct. 25: only one goal allowed. Against the Penguins three nights later: another shutout. Against the Flyers on Tuesday night: 41 saves in a 2-1 OT loss. Calgary seems to have found a truly dependable backup, and that could be the key to keeping the team’s 31-year-old veteran goalie well-rested and on top of his game.

The Flames Rolled the Dice on the Relatively Unknown Vladar

Like a lot of people, my first reaction to the offseason deal with the Boston Bruins that brought in the young Czech goaltender was… confusion. Who the heck was this Vladar guy the Flames had pegged to be the newest back-up goalie in cowtown? Could this relatively unknown 24-year-old with only five NHL starts between the pipes really be ready for the big time? After four games playing with a flaming C on his chest, I’d have to say the answer to that question is a resounding YES.

Dan Vladar Calgary Flames
Dan Vladar, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Vladar has posted an impressive 3-0-1 record this season and has yet to lose a game in regulation. While he got the W’s in his first two starts of the 2021-22 campaign, his numbers were certainly nothing to write home about – a very pedestrian 2.98 GAA and a .891 SV%. This was a far cry from his outstanding 2019-20 American Hockey League season that saw him post a sterling 1.79 GAA and a sparkling .936 SV%.

Related: Flames Taking a Chance on Unproven Vladar as Markstrom’s Backup

All of that changed when the young Czech got back-to-back starts last week in Toronto and Ottawa. Facing the high-octane offence of the Maple Leafs, the 24-year-old was nearly perfect, only giving up a single goal on 33 shots in regulation. In the extra frame, Vladar made a breathtaking breakaway stop against Auston Matthews that (temporarily) saved the game but just moments later, the super-sniper got his revenge and secured a 2-1 victory for the home team. Despite the loss, it was the young backup’s best performance of the season and it earned him the start two days later against the Senators, where he would post the first shutout of his NHL career.

Stellar Netminding Has Stolen Multiple “Loser Points” for the Flames

While the Flames’ offence has been drying up on this lengthy road trip, both Markstrom and Vladar have been doing everything they can to keep Calgary from sliding even farther down the Western Conference standings. If you take away the game against a Covid-19 depleted Senators squad that was on the verge of being shut down, the Flames have only potted four goals in their last three contests. I’ve already raved about how Vladar stole the show in Toronto and single-handedly secured the single point in the overtime loss. Not to be outdone, Markstrom did the exact same thing in Philadelphia on Tuesday night.

While clinging to a 1-0 advantage in the second period, Markstrom came up huge after Rasmus Andersson hauled down the Flyers Scott Laughton, giving the home team a rare penalty shot. The big Swede waited out Laughton, forced him left and then stacked the pads to stop the shot and preserve the lead. The Flames’ number one netminder had already made several ten bell saves earlier in the game and finished the contest with 41 stops on 43 shots to squeak out another loser point.

This type of goaltending from both Calgary netminders is exactly what the Flames need to keep this team in the hunt when goals are hard to come by. It’s no secret that head coach Darryl Sutter has implemented a responsible, defence-first style of hockey this season and that new system has certainly helped his goalies excel. If the Markstrom/Vladar partnership can keep this up over 82 games, I’m betting the boys in red will not only make it to the postseason, but they’ll also make some noise once they get there.

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