The Jacob Markstrom that Brad Treliving was hoping for has arrived. After inking a six-year, $36 million deal during the 2020 offseason, the Swedish netminder was a bit of a disappointment for the Calgary Flames, posting a 2.68 goals-against average (GAA) along with a subpar .904 save percentage (SV%).
The 31-year-old acknowledged this offseason that he knew he needed to be better moving forward, and early on in 2021-22 he has certainly been that. Markstrom’s incredible 1.68 GAA ranks second amongst all NHL netminders, trailing only Jack Campbell of the Toronto Maple Leafs, while his .942 SV% is tied with Florida Panthers Sergei Bobrovsky for second. His performance is a huge reason why the Flames have gotten off to a much better start in 2021-22 than a season prior, as they currently hold a 9-3-5 which has them sitting second in the Pacific Division.
Markstrom Chasing Records
Prior to the start of the 2021-22 season, I suggested that Markstrom could be a Vezina Trophy candidate if he got back to the level of play he had with the Canucks during the 2019-20 season. While I believed there was a chance that happened, he has even far exceeded my expectations, and at this point is likely the frontrunner for the Vezina.
While it could be argued that Campbell is ahead of him in that race given that he leads the league in both GAA and SV%, Markstrom leads in another category, that being shutouts. Through just 13 starts this season, the Flames goaltender has a ridiculous five shutouts, which has already topped his previous career high in three, set in 2020-21.
No one knows whether or not this incredible run will continue, but it is being discussed plenty around the league right now. In fact, Frank Seravalli of Daily Faceoff even recently questioned if Markstrom may have a chance of setting the NHL’s single season shutout record. That current record is held by Tony Esposito, who recorded 15 during the 1969-70 season.
Obviously, there is still a long ways to go in reaching that record, but it certainly doesn’t seem out of reach given how great he has been this season. Even more impressive with this start is the fact that it took Markstrom 128 games to record the first shutout of his NHL career.
Sutter Deserves Credit
Markstrom deserves all of the headline he is grabbing right now, but he shouldn’t be the only one this great run is attributed to. Fans were hoping prior to the 2021-22 season that having head coach Darryl Sutter with the team through training camp this fall would help them become better defensively, and that has clearly been the case. (from ‘Wes Gilbertson: Flames off to impressive start thanks to Darryl Sutter’, Calgary Sun 11/07/21)
This team is as tight checking defensively as we have seen in a long time, as teams coached by Sutter in the past have known to be. What’s even better is that their attention to detail on the defensive side of things hasn’t negated their offence. In fact, it has been much better than a season prior. The Flames are currently tied for sixth in the league with 54 goals scored, while their 34 against is second best.
It is reasonable to expect Markstrom’s play to regress slightly as time moves on given that his numbers are simply unsustainable for an entire season. What shouldn’t change, however, is how the team plays in front of him defensively, which will give him a chance to rack up some more shutouts as the season continues.
One final point as to why Sutter could help Markstrom reach this record is due to the fact that he has been known in the past to ride his No. 1 goaltender. That has been the exact case for the Flames to this point, as he has started 13 of the team’s 17 games. Because of backup goaltender Dan Vladar’s lack of experience at the NHL level, the heavy usage of Markstrom should continue throughout the 2021-22 campaign. At the time of writing this, he is on pace for roughly 63 starts, a number which doesn’t seem all that unreasonable given Sutter’s past.
Long Ways to Go
This early success for Markstrom has been great after the shaky beginning to his tenure in Calgary. However, he will need to make sure he doesn’t get complacent, as this team will need him to be at his best all season long in order to earn a spot in the playoffs. The early portion of the 2021-22 season suggests that he will be more than capable of doing just that.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Oil On Whyte, NHLtradetalk.com, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.