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Sports Patrick Johnston: Markstrom making a Vezina and even a Hart case

08:40  14 february  2020
08:40  14 february  2020 Source:   theprovince.com

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Canucks' Jacob Markstrom makes the save against the Chicago Blackhawks during third-period NHL action at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Wednesday. The Canucks won 3-0.© Bob Frid Canucks' Jacob Markstrom makes the save against the Chicago Blackhawks during third-period NHL action at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Wednesday. The Canucks won 3-0.

The pile of games that can be pointed to as the one pile from the current Vancouver Canucks’ season that most emphasizes goalie Jacob Markstrom’s play continues to get bigger-and-bigger.

So big, in fact, that he surely must be in the Vezina Trophy conversation as the NHL’s top goaltender, but also should be getting consideration for the Hart Memorial Trophy as league MVP.

The case for the former is clear — he’s playing lights out and the Canucks would be nowhere without him — while the case for the latter is very much tied to considering where Vancouver really would be without elite goaltending this season: definitely out of the playoff chase, even in the weak Pacific Division.

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Fresh off a 36-save performance Monday against the Nashville Predators, Markstrom set a new team mark Wednesday, making 49 saves in a 3-0 shutout of the Chicago Blackhawks. The 49 saves was the most-ever by a Canuck in a shutout. It was the second time this season he’s posted a shutout while making more than 40 saves.

Eight times this season Markstrom has faced 40 shots or more in a game. Seven times he’s won.

Once he was called the best goalie outside the NHL: eight years ago he posted a .927 save percentage for the AHL’s San Antonio (Tex.) Rampage.

Now he may just be the best goalie in the NHL.

“There’s nothing I like better than to battle for 60 minutes,” he said after Wednesday’s sensational performance, while sporting a huge grin. And battle he has. Under the tutelage of goalie coach Ian Clark, Markstrom has found the game that his play has long promised.

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“For the most part the eye test matches some of the proprietary numbers that I see. A big part of that for him is eliminating the bad goal,” In Goal magazine’s Kevin Woodley said Thursday. “He’s always had the athletic ability, everyone has always seen his ceiling, back to when he was drafted, to when he was labelled best guy outside the NHL … but technique takes you to the next level.”

According to Clear Sight Analytics, the hockey data company founded by former NHL goalie Steve Valiquette and who shares their information with Woodley, Markstrom is essentially the league’s best goalie. He’s making more tough saves than anyone in the NHL and it’s translating into a league-leading goals-saved-above-average. But, most crucially, it’s the elimination of those bad goals that matter more than anything.

Clear Sight’s data shows that Markstrom has yielded just one “clear-sight” goal this season, a goal on a shot where it’s just shooter and goalie, with no pre-shot movement as a factor and taken from far enough out that it’s a low-probability shot. The kind of stinker that every goalie wants to avoid — Markstrom truly has avoided them this season.

“That’s unreal … I think that speaks to some of the changes that they’ve made,” Woodley said. “The highlight-reel stops are the one we all gravitate towards, but it’s no secret it’s the other ones that left Canucks fans groaning.”

Woodley pointed to two key elements for this success: how Markstrom stands in goal and how he covers the net, known as “net play.”

“Changing his stance and his visual habits was one of the first things Ian Clark did,” Woodley explained. “Before, when he (Markstrom) was set up in his stance, the bio mechanics of it, it didn’t let him see the puck as well.”

Clark changed Markstrom’s stance by bringing his feet closer together, making him taller in net. It was a change that’s not an easy thing for a tall goalie to buy into, Woodley said. When you stand taller, the puck feels farther away, but counterintuitively, it’s apparently easier to track.

“Also his net play, the system they’ve developed in his net play, has allowed him much cleaner movement,” he said.

Add it all up and Markstrom’s clearly one of hockey best goalies this season. And could he be among the league’s best players overall? If he puts up more performances like the ones he did this week, then he will enter more seriously into that conversation.

pjohnston@postmedia.com

twitter.com/risingaction

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