Everything, except winning the Stanley Cup, seemed to go right for the Calgary Flames last season.
The Flames won the Pacific Division, were the sixth-best team in the league, and they managed to win a playoff round in seven games over the Dallas Stars. They also had the league’s sixth best offense (291 goals) thanks to the likes of players like Johnny Gaudreau (115 points), Matthew Tkachuk (104 points), and Elias Lindholm (82 points).
Another reason the Flames were so successful last season was because of the play of their starting goaltender, Jacob Markstrom. Markstrom was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season as the league’s top goaltender after going 37-15-0-9 with a 2.22 goals-against average, a .922 save percentage, and nine shutouts.
Fast forward to this season, and things are very much different in Calgary. Gone are Gaudreau and Tkachuk, and in are forwards Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar.
The changes have yet to pay off for the Flames. While the Flames are currently (Thursday, January 5) hanging on to the first wild card spot and are fourth in their division, their play has been highly inconsistent this season.
Much of that has to do with the disappointing play of Markstrom. The 32-year-old is 12-10-0-4 with a 2.79 goals-against average and a .895 save percentage.
It can be said that Markstrom’s struggles began in the second round of the playoffs last season when his club took on the Edmonton Oilers. He was 1-4 in five games with a 5.12 goals-against average and a .852 save percentage.
He has carried his poor play from last year’s playoffs into this season. Markstrom has allowed a lot of soft goals, as pucks seem to be going through him more often than not, and he is also having trouble controlling rebounds and being in a good position for second opportunities.
One soft goal that comes to mind is the one he allowed to Montreal Canadiens forward Juraj Slafkovsky in a 2-1 loss back on December 1. He came way out of his crease to play a puck coming towards him, and he badly misplayed it thanks to pressure from Canadiens forward Sean Monahan.
After that loss, Markstrom criticized his own play with speaking with reporters.
“Well, I thought these guys did a great job, and once again, I’ve got to be better. I suck right now. So, I’ve got to step up, and you know, we’re playing good hockey and not letting many scoring chances in, but we can’t start behind every game,” Markstrom said.
Another reason why Markstrom might be struggling is that he is putting too much pressure on himself to be perfect because the Flames are not as good offensively as they were last season. They are 20th in the league in goals scored, as they have scored 118 goals in 39 games.
It also does not help Markstrom that he is losing playing time to backup Dan Vladar. Vladar has been the better netminder this season as he is 6-4-0-3 with a 2.83 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage.
If the Flames want to secure a playoff spot this year and play somewhat close to the way they did last season, Markstrom needs to turn his game around. Luckily for Markstrom, he has plenty of time to do so.