Markstrom’s Struggles Versus Oilers Extremely Concerning for Flames

Heading into one of the most highly anticipated playoff series in quite some time between the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers, most expected one goaltender to be significantly better than the other. After all, Jacob Markstrom was not only coming off of a season in which he was named a Vezina Trophy Finalist, but he was even better in his team’s first-round series versus the Dallas Stars. On the other hand, Mike Smith battled injuries and struggled to stay consistent when healthy enough to tend the twine.

Related: 3 Takeaways from Flames’ Frustrating 5-3 Game 4 Loss to the Oilers

Aside from an ugly Game 1 performance, however, Smith has been the far better of the two goaltenders. Markstrom has been uncharacteristically bad in all four games of the series, and as a result, the Flames now return to the Saddledome down 3-1 to their provincial rivals. One would think that given Markstrom’s track record from not only this season but several in the past, he should be able to dial it up for Game 5. But given his struggles against the Oilers, that may not be the case.

Markstrom Has Struggled Versus Oilers in the Past

Despite Markstrom’s brilliant 2021-22 campaign, in which he recorded a 2.22 goals against average (GAA) paired with a .922 save percentage (SV%), he struggled in his four starts against the Oilers this season. While his 2-2-0 record is nothing to scoff at, he allowed 14 goals against in that span for a 3.54 GAA and a .884 SV%. That GAA is the worst he posted against any team he faced on more than one occasion this season aside from the Montreal Canadiens.

While it wasn’t discussed a ton given the struggles of both Smith and Mikko Koskinen in Game 1, Markstrom looked very shaky himself despite picking up the win. Despite his team having 5-1 and 6-2 leads, the Oilers stormed back to tie the game at six apiece, several of which came on very stoppable shots.

Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers Jacob Markstrom Calgary Flames
Jacob Markstrom of the Calgary Flames makes a save against Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

The thought after Game 1 from the Flames fanbase was that their team had the upper hand, given that they were able to pick up a win despite Markstrom having a rare off night. That off night appears to be turning into an off series, however, as he has let in numerous goals in the past three Oilers wins that he was making saves on in the regular season.

In his defence, the team in front of him has left him hung out to try on several occasions, but his poor positioning and bad angles suggest he is playing with very little confidence right now. Take this goal from Zach Hyman in Game 3, for example. While it is undoubtedly a great passing play from the Oilers, Markstrom way overcommits sliding across, and as a result, he was well off his angle, leaving plenty of room for Hyman to fire it by the blocker side.

Game 1 also had plenty of moments that make it appear as though the uber talented netminder is struggling to find his confidence right now. Goals three through five all beat him cleanly, low to the glove side, and all three, he was far too deep in his net.

Ultimately it didn’t matter, as his teammates were able to bail him out with three goals in the third, but you have to wonder if the iffy performance has been the cause for his struggles in Games 2, 3, and 4.

Markstrom Has Opportunity to Prove He Is Elite

Since signing a massive six-year, $36 million deal as a free agent during the 2020 offseason, the Flames organization has made it clear they view Markstrom as one of the game’s truly elite goaltenders. Based on his play in the regular season, it is certainly fair to say he is a top-tier goaltender. That said, truly elite players are the ones that thrive under immense pressure and step up when their team needs it the most.

Andrei Vasilevskiy is perhaps the best example of this, as he becomes nearly unbeatable any time his team is either on the verge of elimination or has a chance to clinch a series. If Markstrom hopes to prove he is in a class with the league’s very best, he has a great opportunity to, starting on Thursday night.

Sign up for our regular 'Flames Newsletter' for all the latest.
Sign up for our regular 'Oilers Newsletter' for all the latest.