With little time remaining in the 2021-22 season, most would agree that head coach Darryl Sutter is the frontrunner for the Jack Adams Award. Calgary Flames fans have been thrilled with the job he has done behind the bench, as he has turned this team from one who missed playoffs just a year ago to a true Stanley Cup contender. With that said, there is one thing that plenty of Flames fans are questioning when it comes to their team’s bench boss, and that one thing would be the usage of his goaltenders.
Throughout Sutter’s lengthy coaching career, he has been known to ride his starter, and that has certainly been the case with Jacob Markstrom, who has started 59 games to Dan Vladar’s 19. To his credit, Markstrom has handled the heavy workload extremely well, compiling an impressive 2.24 goals-against average (GAA) along with a .922 save percentage (SV%) and a league-leading nine shutouts. But despite the great season he is having, giving him some rest for the remainder of 2021-22 is something the coaching staff should greatly consider.
Playoffs a Lock for the Flames
Thanks in large part to the great play of Markstrom, the Flames are sitting pretty in first place in the Pacific Division, holding a seven-point lead over the second-place Edmonton Oilers. Barring a major collapse down the stretch, they will remain the first seed for the playoffs, which begin in just over two weeks’ time.
Because of how well they are sitting in the playoff race, the Flames have the luxury of giving Markstrom some rest right now, something many other teams would love to have the option of doing. At this point, the risks of continuing to give him the bulk of starts through the remaining games much outweigh the risks of giving him some time off.
Markstrom in a Minor Rut
Aside from a bit of a rough patch in December, Markstrom has been rock solid all season long. In fact, if the season were to end today, there is a great chance he would be a Vezina Trophy finalist. With that said, he has struggled as of late, getting pulled in each of his past two starts. In large part due to those last two games, he owns an ugly 3.13 GAA along with a .886 SV% through six starts in the month of April.
There shouldn’t be a ton of concern regarding those two starts, as he has shown a great ability to bounce back from a rare off night or two this season. Still, there has to be some awareness into the fact fatigue may be having an effect, as he has never appeared more than 60 games in a single season throughout his career.
In order to ensure that he isn’t fatigued and is at 100 percent for the playoffs, it would suit the Flames well to give Vladar the majority of starts for the rest of the season. He’s shown he’s capable of winning games when called upon, proven by his 11-5-1 record on the year.
Relatively Easy Schedule Down the Stretch
What makes playing Vladar down the stretch even more intriguing is that the Flames don’t have an overly difficult schedule for the remainder of the season. Aside from the Vancouver Canucks, who are well outside of a playoff spot, none of the eight games they have left come against divisional opponents, which takes away any fear of them giving up two points to a team who could track them down in the standings.
Of course, there is the argument that fans wouldn’t want Markstrom to start in the playoffs after getting pulled in each of his past two starts. While I do think playing Vladar going forward is the right decision, the Flames do have back-to-back games on April 18-19, as well as April 28-29. The best move they could do here is play Markstrom once in each of those back-to-backs. This gives him a chance to bounce back and regain any potential last confidence while also keeping him well-rested. It would also give Vladar a bit of a chance to get some consistent playing time, as he would be handed six of a possible eight starts.
In order to succeed in the playoffs, which the Flames are certainly capable of with this roster, they will need Markstrom to be the elite goalie he is. The best chance for that to happen comes with him being well-rested, which is why Sutter should strongly consider having his workhorse play the role of a backup goaltender for the remainder of the 2021-22 season.
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.