The Calgary Flames Goaltending a Lesson in Regression

The Calgary Flames goaltending has gone through two very distinct phases this season that coincide with the team’s hot start and recent struggles.

Goaltending is the position with the greatest potential to elevate a team with strong performance, or to undermine it with sub-par play.  The 21/22 version of the Calgary Flames provides a case study in the effects of extreme goaltending.  Let’s take a look at some numbers from Natural Stat Trick to gain some insight.

Hot Start

Through the first month and a half of the season, the Flames were one of the hottest teams in the league and strong goaltending was a major factor in their early season success.  Through Dec 4 (24 games), Jacob Markstrom and Dan Vladar sat 3rd and 4th in the NHL in 5v5 save percentage (min 200 5v5 TOI) with 0.952 and 0.949 SV%, respectively.  Markstrom had 12.5 goals saved above expected at 5v5 over 18 games during that stretch, while Vladar had 4.0 goals saved above expected at 5v5 in 6 games.

With both goalies playing superb hockey, it was unsurprising to see the Flames ranked 1st in the NHL with a 5v5 SV% of 0.959 over their initial 24 games, and it backed the team to the 4th best point percentage in the NHL. Their goaltending was so strong, in fact, that their PDO was 2nd highest in the league despite a 21st ranked shooting percentage of 7.5%.  Regression was bound to set in at some point.

Ice Cold

Things took a dramatic turn in the crease starting with a 3-2 loss in Vegas on December 5.  In their last 10 games, the polar opposite of how the Flames goaltending started the season has transpired.  Markstrom has a save percentage of just 0.883 over that stretch, 5th worst in the NHL among goalies with at least 200 5v5 minutes.

Vladar has seen less action (142 5v5 TOI) and has an 0.883 SV% over the same period.  Markstrom has allowed 5.3 goals above expected in 7 games while Vladar has allowed 4.8 goals above expected in 3 games.

At the team level, the struggles of both goalies has led to a league worst 87.4% save percentage since December 4, a complete 180 degree flip from their first 24 games.  With their scoring drying up to some degree (that’s a story for another day) and a 27th ranked SH% of 6.77%, the Flames have a league worst PDO over the stretch.

Another Correction Coming?

Once again, regression is bound to set in at some point.  While we don’t have much NHL data for Vladar, we do for Markstrom, and it suggests he’ll be better in the long term.  It would be unreasonable to expect a bounce back to amazing level we saw early in the season, but even a return to average goaltending would be enough to give the Flames a chance to win on a nightly basis.

The data suggests that a rebound is coming, it’s just a matter of when.  With the high flying Panthers visiting Tuesday, now would be a good time.