Sure, it was against a depleted Pittsburgh Penguins team, but that's absolutely nothing to scoff at. Jacob Markstrom recorded his second shutout in three nights in a 4-0 win over Pittsburgh, highlighted by an early save of the season candidate with his incredible desperation stick save.
Frankly, Markstrom is playing some elite hockey right now. The level many expected from him when he signed with the Calgary Flames last off-season, but never managed to hit on a consistent basis. It's still early, with Markstrom playing just five games so far, but he leads the NHL with a 5-on-5 save percentage of .970, goals-saved-above-average of 6.47 and is third in high-danger save percentage of .939, per Natural Stat Trick.
Talk about getting the job done.
The Calgary Flames sit first in the Pacific Division with 11 points and a 5-1-1 record – albeit, they have just a point and a game in hand over Edmonton. The Pacific Divsion being viewed as a "weak" group this year is a popular narrative, and Calgary has been the favorite in Markstrom's three wins this season, too. But It's how he's playing as a whole that's really been notable.
The small sample size matters, but think back to the way he played pre-injury in Vancouver in 2019-20. While Markstrom wasn't top 10 in SV or GSAA at 5-on-5 that year, many pointed to Markstrom as the reason the Canucks had any playoff aspirations heading into the shutdown. Thatcher Demko ultimately stole the spotlight in the playoffs, but near the end of his tenure in Vancity, Markstrom had become a popular figure for a proud franchise that definitely got more than a few games were stolen for them by their big Swedish netminder.
Sportsnet's Eric Francis mentioned this quote in a recent piece regarding Markstrom's views on his own play last season: “If ‘A’ is good, I’ll give a ‘Y.” And while Markstrom has always been known to be his own biggest critic, his play certainly wasn't great in meaningful fashion. After signing a six-year contract worth $6-million per season,
Markstrom posted a 22-19-2 record with a .904 overall SP in 43 games. The issue? David Rittich wasn't good as a backup, either, and Louis Domingue and Artyom Zagidulin weren't good enough to earn more playing time. The Flames ultimately missed the playoffs, and it was clear Calgary needed better goaltending out of their prized summer acquisition.
They're getting it right now. The Flames, as a whole, are playing much better than they did a year ago, too. Johnny Gaudreau has been excellent with 10 points in seven games, Elias Lindholm and Andrew Mangiapane have a goal-per-game already and Blake Coleman has been an excellent addition to this club after moving over from Tampa Bay. But a good performance up front doesn't matter if the goaltender isn't getting the job done. Fortunately for the Flames, Markstrom has been absolutely lights-out in a year where many top goaltenders have faltered early on.
The real test is whether Markstrom can continue playing a high level for the rest of the season. Dan Vladar is a good backup, but Markstrom should be getting around 60-plus starts this year if he stays healthy. After stopping 106 of his last 107 shots sent his way, Markstrom is playing like a man on a mission, taking away key points while on a long road trip.
Now that the Flames are back home, expect loud fanfare for their beloved starter.