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Calgary’s goaltending isn’t as bad as it looks

Oct 14, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Calgary Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom (25) drops his head during a break in play after giving up his fourth goal of the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the third period at PPG Paints Arena. Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the results so far this season Jacob Markstrom hasn’t been the problem.

Is it time to panic? That’s the question Flames fans are asking themselves a mere three games into the 2023-24 season and the answer is “no.” Well, at least in relation to the goaltending. You can argue that it might be time to worry about Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri, but that’s a story for another day. Today we’re going to look at Jacob Markstrom and why he’s not the issue and you could say he’s one of the few things keeping the Flames afloat.

Through three games, Markstrom doesn’t have the greatest stat line. He’s 1-1-1 with a 2.97 GAA and .898 SV%, but if you’ve watched the games and not just looked at the stats you’d know those numbers are deceiving. Jacob Markstrom has been elite, but the team in front of him hasn’t been even close to that level. In Calgary’s season opener, Markstrom faced 37 shots, stopping 34. The Flames defence played very loose and Markstrom had to make some spectacular stops to keep the Flames ahead. In two periods alone, Calgary’s top goalie saw 29 shots and allowed only two goals. A solid performance all around, in spite of some lackluster defence by his blueline mates.

Now we’ll jump to Calgary’s complete collapse in Pittsburgh after securing a 2-0 lead through two periods. In a span of 44 seconds to start the third period, Pittsburgh scored twice to tie the game and then would add three more to stun the Flames with a 5-2 loss. That the third period was a defensive nightmare with Noah Hanifin committing a horrendous turnover that led to a goal and Nikita Zadorov and Mackenzie Weegar each being out of position leading to easy Pittsburgh scoring chances. Calgary would actually outshoot the Penguins 36-29, yet Pittsburgh capitalized on most of the Flames mistakes and Jacob Markstrom had to bear the brunt of that ineptitude. Tally it all up and Markstrom stopped 24 of 28, good for a sub-par .857 SV% on the night. Again, barely any of that was his fault as the entire defence was in the minus portion of +/- with Noah Hanifin at a -3. Only Andrew Mangiapane (of regulars who played significant minutes) wasn’t a minus (he was even at 0).

Now we’ll look at the last game Calgary played, a 3-2 SO loss to the Washington Capitals on Monday. The Flames owned the Caps in the first period, having secured, at what the time was thought of, a 2-0 lead. Markstrom’s workload was non-existent, stopping only 3 shots during that first frame. And it’s not like he faced a barrage of shots the rest of the way. He would see nine in the second, ten in the third and one lone shot in overtime. Washington would flip the script and score twice in the second period on those nine shots, completely changing the trajectory of this game. It’s once again hard to put this loss on Jacob Markstrom as he was very solid again. Yes, I’m sure he would like one of those two goals back, but if you only allow two goals to an NHL team you should win more often than not. Where the Calgary defence failed Markstrom and the team in Pittsburgh, it was the offence that was the culprit here. Calgary would put 40 shots on Darcy Kuemper, yet none of it felt threatening in the least bit (looking at you Blake Coleman on that penalty shot). The Flames once again had a commanding 40-23 shot advantage, but couldn’t come up with more than two goals. And if it wasn’t for the play of Calgary’s third line (Dillon Dube/Adam Ruzicka), this would have been much worse. Oh, I forgot to include Nazem Kadri in that third line? EXACTLY. His omission is purposeful as that’s exactly how he played in that game.

Yes, it’s only three games into the season, so everything could easily sort itself out. Maybe Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri will start to play and earn all that money the Flames are paying them. Maybe Yegor Sherangovich will start unleashing that shot we’ve heard so much about since the Flames dealt their points leader in Tyler Toffoli for this offseason. Maybe the Flames defence will stop turning pucks over and playing out of position. Maybe Calgary will start putting quality shots on goal instead of just firing from everywhere. And finally, maybe, just maybe the Flames will start taking advantage of their PPO. In three games Calgary is 3-11 with the man advantage and it’s starting to look like the old days where you wish the team could delcine the PP and play 5 on 5 because that’s where they play their best.

In the offseason the Flames got a new GM. The players got what they wanted in the firing of Darryl Sutter. Everything has been set up for them to have success, but only one player seems to have gotten the message and that’s Jacob Markstrom. In 2022-23 he and his propensity to surrender a goal on the first few shots was absolutely one of the biggest issues with that squad. This season Markstrom looks more confident, sure of himself and steady in the pipes. Everything else needs to straighten itself out because the Flames are wasting some spectacular play from a goalie who’s stat line looks like he’s a bottom five goaltender in the league. The eye test will tell you all you need to know: the problem is not Jacob Markstrom.