It’s only preseason. That is a line that gets thrown around a ton when a player excels in exhibition play, as it often proves to be unsustainable once the real games begin. A good example for Calgary Flames fans is their provincial rival Edmonton Oilers, who believed they struck gold in Brendan Perlini last preseason, only to place him on waivers a few short months later. That said, the play of one Flame in particular at this time should be giving fans plenty of optimism heading into the regular season.
That Flame is Dan Vladar. The 25-year-old came to Calgary from the Boston Bruins last offseason with just five games of experience at the NHL level, but was able to earn a spot out of camp as the backup to Jacob Markstrom. While he wasn’t bad by any means, his 2.75 goals-against average (GAA) along with his .906 save percentage (SV%) made him hard to trust for head coach Darryl Sutter, resulting in him appearing in just 23 games.
Again, it is just preseason, but Vladar looks like an entirely different goaltender early on. His rebounds are much more controlled, he is more relaxed in his crease, and the results are showing it. Through parts of four starts thus far, he has kicked aside 97 of 103 shots for a superb .942 SV%. While that obviously isn’t sustainable throughout the regular season, it is a clear improvement, which is massive news for the Flames heading into 2022-23.
Vladar Can Help Keep Markstrom Rested
Despite it being brought up plenty throughout the offseason, we’d be remiss not to bring up Markstrom’s struggles versus the Oilers in the second round of the playoffs earlier this year. The 32-year-old, who had been the model of consistency throughout the entire 2021-22 regular season, was far from against Connor McDavid and company, something many believe was due to fatigue.
As mentioned, Vladar only appeared in 23 games last season, 19 of which were starts. This resulted in Markstrom being handed the bulk of the starts — 63, to be exact. That was a career high for the Swede, and was tied for the third-highest amongst all NHL goaltenders. Ten years ago, that was a perfectly normal number to see from a No. 1 goalie, but in more recent years teams are beginning to realize that a lesser workload can lead to better success come the playoffs.
Again, it is only preseason, but it does seem as though Vladar has truly improved from the goalie he was in 2021-22. If he is able to up his starting total from 19 to roughly 30, that will give Markstrom plenty more rest, and will allow him to be fresh come the playoffs.
Flames Need Markstrom at Elite Level to Go the Distance
It was rather obvious against the Oilers in that second round that without Markstrom at the top of his game, the Flames were simply outmatched. After all, it wasn’t like they were up against a great goaltender themselves, as Mike Smith proved to be as inconsistent as they came throughout the entirety of last season. However, the Oilers simply had more firepower, mainly in McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and were simply too much to handle given Markstrom’s struggles.
Now, this isn’t to suggest that Markstrom was, or will be, the only reason the Flames have success. Their roster is loaded with talent. However, most would agree that the goaltender position is the most important in the game of hockey, and it showed last season how poorly things can go if you’re not getting the saves you need.
Luckily for the Flames, Markstrom has proven capable of being one of the best in the business. His 2.22 GAA and .922 SV% last season resulted in him being named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy. The issue, as we saw from him, is sustaining that play late into the year. Having an improved Vladar who can provide him with some additional time off throughout the 2022-23 regular season should help with that in a major way.
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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: Yahoo Sports, Las Vegas Chronicle, Oil On Whyte, 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.