Chris Faber, I totally agree with you.
Today, in a post written for CanucksArmy titled “The NHL Slapped Jacob Markstrom’s Vezina Calibre Season in the Face and It’s Not OK,” Faber went on and on about the fact that the Vancouver Canucks’ fine goaltender Jacob Markstrom deserves a better fate than to be listed the #13th best goalie in the NHL this season.
The Case for Markstrom to Be Ranked Higher
From where I sit, which is on Vancouver Island – almost as far west as one can live in Canada – it strikes me that the rankings are a mix of the eastern (or, for Canadians – Central Canada) bias and the fact that most voters seem to have gone with names they recognized.
Faber points out that, of the 22 goalies who played in more than 40 games, Markstrom ranks first in shots against per game, saves per game, and ranks fifth in the league for the lowest average distance of shot faced (I didn’t know anyone kept that statistic).
However, to belabor Markstrom’s fine season swings a bit of a double-edged sword. Almost in the same breath, one has to make a case for the poor play of Markstrom’s teammates in front of him. However, to my mind, it’s more complex than that. A team plays like a team, and I believe the goalie and the skaters sort of share a conscious (or probably more of an unconscious) understanding.
Markstrom’s Play is All Part of Building a Team’s Philosophy
Frankly, I don’t think the team can be blamed that much for how they played. I think the game flow is part of the way a team learns to play by playing. To sound simple, the Canucks are simply the Canucks.
Let me give you an example. The Edmonton Oilers dynasty seasons from 1983-84 to 1989-90 featured a great compliment of forwards and a high-scoring defenseman (Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson, Mark Messier, and Paul Coffey) who could score and a goalie (Grant Fuhr) who could – when he had to – stand on his head and stop pucks.
Fuhr, who’s in the Hockey Hall of Fame, doesn’t have a save percentage that’s very high at all – .887 – but in 867 NHL games, he has a 403-295-114 record. Truth is that he would let in some soft goals when the Oilers were ahead by a ton of points, which they often were. However, when he needed to, he could stone a team as well.
Markstrom, on the other hand, had to stone teams a number of times for the Canucks to win. That was simply the team’s MO. And, they played that way because they could play that way. In other words, Markstrom was on top of his game when he faced a lot of shots so the team responded – as I say consciously or unconsciously – in a way that mobilized their own offense and trusted their goalie to stop the mistakes they created by being aggressive on the ice.
Why the Canucks Defensive Statistics Don’t Matter as Much as They Seem
If I were head coach Travis Green, it wouldn’t have taken me long to figure that out and – in one way or another – to support it with my coaching philosophy. Plus, it’s exciting for the fans.
Green also has to know that, when his team plays with that philosophy, its goalie simply faces a lot of shots during the game. That’s what the Canucks did: the team played wide-open hockey and pushed the puck up the ice all the time. They will likely continue to do so, and Markstrom will probably continue to face lots of shots with this young team for a long time – that is, if he re-signs and stays.
As a result, I don’t make too much of statistics such as the Canucks being outshot 1317-1420 (-103) with Markstrom in the net. That’s the Canucks’ game. That they also were successful in outscoring their opponents 130-117 (+13) is also part of the team’s game. As I said, that makes the team exciting.
For example, not really much of a surprise was Markstrom’s career-high 49 saves in a Canucks 3-0 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on February 12, the night when the organization honored Daniel and Henrik Sedin by retiring their numbers. The 49 saves were the most by a Canuck goaltender since Kirk MacLean’s 45-save win over the Montreal Canadiens on December 4, 1991.
It also was the most saves by any Swedish NHL goalie in a shutout in NHL history. The New York Rangers Henrik Lundqvist and the Ottawa Senator’s Anders Nilsson both recorded 45-save shutouts previously.
Markstrom Likes to Battle for His Team
Markstrom noted after that game, “They were throwing a lot of pucks from bad angles, kind of from everywhere. It was a battle.”
And, “There is nothing more I like than to battle for 60 minutes with these guys.”
By the way, Faber points out that, in games when Markstrom faced 35 or more shots (which were 40% of his games), the team had a record of 13-4-0. Faber also points out that Markstrom was the only goaltender in the entire league who didn’t give up a clear-sight goal all season. (A clear-sight shot is when a shooter is in position with half a second of clear vision on the puck before it’s released.) Markstrom didn’t allow a single clear vision goal all season.
It Was a Great But Difficult Season for Markstrom
Markstrom had as great a season in net as any goaltender in the NHL. He also did it under duress. And, he’s been nominated for the Bill Masterton Trophy as a result.
For fans who recall, Markstrom spent time during the season in Sweden because his father died. Even facing such a personal tragedy, Markstrom led his team into the postseason playoffs. When he returned from Sweden after his leave of absence in early December, his record was 15-9-1 until the end of the season with a save percentage of .920 in those 25 games.
Hence the Canucks have made the postseason. That the NHL’s group that does power rankings of the league’s goalies don’t see all this is because they’re likely in bed when the Canucks play. Either that or they’ve heard the other names, but not Markstrom’s.
He’s a great goalie and he deserves better than being listed as 13th in the NHL. Thanks, Faber for getting my attention.
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