The Calgary Flames beat the St. Louis Blues 4-1 on Thursday night in the second game of a back-to-back, securing a much-needed two points in the Western Conference standings. Right now, the Flames (49 points) are holding off the Edmonton Oilers (47) and Blues (45) in a tightly contested wild card race.
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Even though the Flames currently sit six games over .500 with a 20-14-9 record through 43 games, they have clawed their way to most of those victories. Although the team had a similar form at the halfway mark last season, they had superb goaltending performances on a nightly basis from Jacob Markstrom.
However, Markstrom’s performance this season is one of the significant issues haunting the Flames. After 30 games, he’s collected 13 wins, down a couple from the same time last year (15). Furthermore, his overall performance could be deemed questionable, and his statistics showcase his current struggles.
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Since Markstrom cannot be relied upon to carry the team on a lengthy win streak, the answer to their current problems is just sitting at the end of the bench, and his name is Daniel Vladar.
Flames Acquired Vladar in 2021 for Moments Like This
In 2021, the Boston Bruins employed Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak as their leading tandem, with Jeremy Swayman suiting up for a handful of games, leaving Vladar to experience limited NHL action. Since the team needed to make room for their goalie of the future, Swayman, the Bruins kept Rask, let Halak go, and traded Vladar to the Flames for a third-round pick.
Conversely, Markstrom played 43 games in his first season with the Flames, the shortened 56-game 2021-22 campaign, which resulted in the team missing the playoffs in the all-Canadian division. After realizing their star goalie needed some rest to stay fresh and platooning a handful of goalies was not the solution, they acquired Vladar to solidify the backup role.
Initially, Vladar was satisfied when he found regular playing time at the NHL level. The native of Prague, Czechia, started in 19 contests and earned a 13-6-2 record in 23 appearances. Moreover, he finished the season with a 2.75 goals-against average (GAA) and a .906 save percentage (SV%). Although Markstrom carried the team to a division championship, Vladar proved, whenever given a chance, that he was indeed a capable number two and could win games when called upon. Furthermore, between the two franchises he’s played for, Vladar’s career record is 50-21-11 with a 2.36 GAA and a .918 SV%.
Flames Must Ride the Hot Hand With Vladar In Net
As mentioned, the Flames will not repeat last season’s Pacific Division championship despite experts’ predictions at the start of 2022-23. Nevertheless, they remain in a playoff spot, but most nights, their matchups feel like must-win scenarios, and it is only the middle of January. Recently, against the worse team in the entire league, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Flames dropped a 4-3 contest in overtime, getting outplayed by a franchise aiming for the top spot in the upcoming draft lottery. Additionally, they followed that performance up with a 4-3 loss to the Blues after blowing a 3-1 lead to start the third period.
The losses are not one person’s fault; however, Markstrom’s tendency to allow soft goals surfaced again this week and cost the team additional points. In the Blackhawks contest, he got pulled in the second period, allowing Vladar to come in and stop the bleeding, which he did outside of letting in the overtime winner. Still, head coach Darryl Sutter chose to return to Markstrom in Tuesday’s game against the Blues. Instead of getting pulled, he imploded in a high-pressure situation before ending his night by breaking his stick on the boards after another overtime loss.
Through the first three games on this critical road trip, the Flames are 1-0-2, with Markstrom producing a pedestrian .816 SV% in 81:03 of ice time. Meanwhile, Vladar has been superb with a .945 SV% after playing 100:29. Coaches say when it comes to goalie starts, they often “ride the hot hand” and give the consistent netminder a chance until the winning streak ends. Naturally, Sutter must play Vladar for the rest of the current road trip, ending with contests against the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators.
People will question why Markstrom, the $6 million goalie, is riding the pine. However, the Flames cannot rely on him to make key saves at crucial moments. Conversely, Vladar plays calmly in the net and is in place to make saves; even when he isn’t, he’s flexible enough to cover any mishaps. Furthermore, Markstrom appears to have lost structure and composure in his game, often flopping around to make saves while scrambling to get back into position.
It is difficult to tell how the Flames play in front of either goalie because the team has been hit-and-miss most of the season. Whether it’s firing over 40 shots on goal, blowing leads, or losing in overtime, ultimately, they lack a true identity, and it’s shown night in and night out. Thus far, the Flames have found several methods to lose hockey games in 2022-23, but they haven’t played Vladar consistently. However, with valuable points on the table every night until April, the time is now to let him take the reins and see how everyone responds.
Ryan Gagne is back for his second tour of duty with The Hockey Writers. In 2021 he wrote about the New York Islanders and now will embrace the challenge of covering the Calgary Flames. The best part of this new assignment is Ryan currently lives in Edmonton and will get to see both sides of the Battle of Alberta up close and personal. None of this will make much sense since he was born and raised in New England and the Boston Bruins are his still team.