Flames’ Vladar Slowly Stealing Net from Struggling Markstrom

If you were to ask the Calgary Flames which player on their roster they had the most confidence in entering the 2022-23 season, many would have said Jacob Markstrom. Postseason struggles aside, the 32-year-old more than lived up to his $6 million cap hit in 2021-22, recording a 2.22 goals-against average (GAA) along with a .922 save percentage (SV%) in 63 appearances.

Thanks to the incredible season, Markstrom found himself in the top three for Vezina Trophy voting for the first time in his career. Plenty of his success was linked to the strong defensive team play of the Flames under head coach Darryl Sutter, and was expected to continue in 2022-23. However, through the quarter-way point, that has been far from the case.

Markstrom Losing Starting Role

Through 17 appearances in 2022-23, Markstrom is struggling mightily. The Swedish netminder looks like a shade of his former self, with a 2.97 GAA along with a .889 SV% thus far. His struggles aren’t the sole reason, but have played a major part in his team’s rather lackluster 10-10-3 record thus far.

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Due to Markstrom’s poor play, many have been calling for backup goaltender Dan Vladar to be handed more starts moving forward, and they are starting to get their wish. Vladar, who owns a solid 2.70 GAA and a .913 SV% on the season, has started three of his teams most recent five games. Though the team’s 1-1-1 record in that span isn’t overly impressive, he has given them a chance to win all three.

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

In all three of those contests, Vladar has posted a SV% of .909 or higher. For comparisons sake, Markstrom has posted a SV% higher than that in just four of his 17 starts on the season. It is very evident at this point in time who the better goaltender has been in 2022-23, and it is in the best interest of the team to ride the hot hand for the time being.

On top of all that, Markstrom’s confidence appears to be completely shot. After his most recent start to the Montreal Canadiens, one in which he made an egregious error on the first of two he allowed on the evening, he told reporters, “I just suck at hockey right now.” While it was good that he was able to take accountability, it is clear he doesn’t believe in himself right now, making it hard to start him at this time.

Markstrom Remains Long-Term Option

There is no denying that Markstrom’s play to this point in the season has been extremely disappointing. He proved in 2021-22 just how good he is capable of being when at the top of his game, but for whatever reason has failed to get back to that level. That said, it is a long season, and he remains critical to the overall success of this team.

While Vladar has been good early on this season, he doesn’t possess the same elite qualities as his counterpart. If this team is to go on a deep playoff run this spring, Markstrom will need to be the man between the pipes. That said, if his play continues on this way, that could result in a very quick playoff exit for the Flames.

Jacob Markstrom Calgary Flames
Jacob Markstrom, Calgary Flames (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In hopes to get his workhorse back on track, Sutter continued to give Markstrom the bulk of starts until very recently. While it certainly made sense given his play in the past, it hasn’t been working this season, and it is clear that the Flames’ bench boss is realizing that Vladar is giving the team a better chance at winning games right now. Until that changes, he should continue to see plenty of time in the crease moving forward.

Lesser Role May Benefit Markstrom

Though a player as competitive as Markstrom wants to play each and every night, it is clear he is in a massive funk right now. Perhaps what is needed to get him back on track is taking some games in from the bench, similar to the way a night in the press box can rejuvenate a player.

In the meantime, as already stressed, Vladar needs to given plenty of starts moving forward. This Flames team is one that entered the season as Stanley Cup contenders, but as of now are in the outside looking in when it comes to a playoff spot. Luckily for them, several of their divisional opponents haven’t been at their best to this point in the season either, meaning that stringing together a few wins will put them right back in the mix.

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