The Swedish national team decided to go with veteran goaltender Henrik Lundqvist over Vancouver Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom yesterday. To me, that wasn’t the right move. Here’s why.
Shoulda, coulda woulda. While Team Sweden head coach Rikard Grönborg didn’t have hindsight at his disposal as we all do now when he made the decision yesterday, I thought the decision to not go with Vancouver Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom in yesterday’s Quarterfinals contest against Finland was a poor one.
Call me biased, but the numbers do not lie. The numbers I’m talking about are the performances that Markstrom turned in this season after a poor start. We all know Markstrom completely reinvented his game this season with the help of goaltending coach Ian Clark, and part of that is his newfound ability to bounce back big from a poor performance.
That’s exactly what Markstrom’s start against a stacked Russia team was — a poor performance. Anytime a goalie let’s in more than six goals — let alone in the same period — it’s pretty safe to call it a bad performance. Those who watched the game however, know that Russia had some grade-A quality chances that Markstrom didn’t have much chance on.
That being said, Markstrom likely should have saved at least a few of those. Here’s the thing though, Sweden played a great first period in the game against Russia — likely their best period of the entire tournament. In return, Markstrom fed off that and made some key stops to keep the Russians off the board in the opening frame.
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The second period however, was the complete opposite. It was likely Sweden’s worst period of the tournament. As a result, Markstrom was unable to stop the bleeding. He finished the game much stronger, allowing just one goal in the third period, making some big saves in the process.
So after such an abysmal effort from Markstrom and his team as a whole, why would Sweden even entertain the idea of going with Markstrom again? I’ll tell you why — his ability to bounce back from rough games. This ability is something relatively new for Markstrom — but as I wrote in one of my very first articles at The Canuck Way, Markstrom had a resurgence in the back half of last season.
Let’s take a look at the numbers. Keep in mind, my criteria for a “poor start” in this article is any game that Markstrom had a save percentage lower than .860, which is still higher than Lundqvist’s .844 save percentage in yesterday’s game against Finland. For reference, Markstrom had a .794 save percentage in the game against Russia.
Also in my criteria is that I’m only looking at games from December onward because December is the month where Markstrom emerged as the Canucks’ true number one goaltender. Finally, I’m only looking at save percentage to see how well Markstrom bounced back — and while this stat alone obviously doesn’t tell the whole story, it gives a good indicator as to how well a goaltender performed on any given night.
My first example comes from January 10th, where Markstrom allowed four goals on 22 shots in what was a 4-3 overtime loss to the Arizona Coyotes. Markstrom’s next start, however, saw him allow just one goal on 24 shots against the Florida Panthers — a .958 save percentage.
Markstrom’s next poor start came on the 23rd of January, where he allowed five goals on 34 shots against the Carolina Hurricanes. The next game? A 34 save effort where Markstrom allowed just one goal in a victory over the Colorado Avalanche.
The next example came on the heels of what was hands down Markstrom’s worst start of the season, and one of the worst efforts turned in by the Canucks last season. It was the March 9th game against the Vegas Golden Knights, where Markstrom allowed five goals on 16 shots and was pulled from the game.
After that game, not only did Markstrom still appear on CBC’s After Hours as he was planned to, but on the program, Markstrom talked about the importance of putting the past behind him and making sure he’s prepared for his next start. And that’s exactly what he was — prepared.
In his next start, Markstrom allowed one goal on 22 shots against the New York Rangers. There are obviously more instances of Markstrom bouncing back after poor starts, but the final one I would like to point to is the huge bounce back he had after allowing five goals on 24 shots to the Anaheim Ducks.
The game after was Markstrom’s second to final start of the season, and final home start of the season, against the Dallas Stars. With hopes of finishing his memorable season on a high note, Markstrom came to play against the Stars. He stopped 38 of the 40 shots he faced and backstopped his team to a 3-2 victory.
While we will never know for certain, something tells me that in a game as big as the one yesterday against Finland was, Markstrom would have been ready to bounce back in a big way, as he did for the Canucks multiple times last season.