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Flames will lean on goaltending depth with Markstrom sidelined

Dan Vladar Trevor Lewis MacKenzie Weegar Calgary Flames Dan Vladar, Trevor Lewis and MacKenzie Weegar - The Canadian Press

The Calgary Flames are breathing a sigh of relief after it was announced starting goalie Jacob Markstrom is week to week with a fractured finger that doesn’t require surgery. 

The injury occurred during practice on Monday. Markstrom was moving laterally on an odd-man rush, lost his stick, and tried to make a save with his blocker hand. The puck hit the unprotected part of Markstrom’s blocker hand, and he immediately rushed off the ice, followed by general manager Craig Conroy and goalie coach Jason LaBarbera. 

The sentiment at the morning skate was that the injury could have been much worse, and that backup Dan Vladar and prospect Dustin Wolf will have no trouble filling in for Markstrom, beginning with a game against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday that Vladar will start.

“It’s not as bad as it seemed,” head coach Ryan Huska said. “Week to week. You could see him in one week. It could be shortly thereafter.”

Markstrom has had a good season for the Flames, who are 10-11-3 and have points in seven of their past 10 games. Among the 76 goalies to have played in the NHL this season, he’s 10th in five-on-five high-danger save percentage (0.869) and fourth in high-danger goals saved above expected (5.52). 

“You feel bad for him,” captain Mikael Backlund said. “It’s always tough when guys get injured…we’re going to miss Marky…he’s been playing really well. You can tell he’s very confident and poised on the ice this year. He’s had a really good start. We would’ve liked to have won more games in front of him, but he’s been playing well this year.”

Markstrom has also been invaluable off the ice. His competitiveness and intensity rubs off on teammates and he came into training camp with a chip on his shoulder, determined to rebound after a disappointing 2022-23 campaign.

Huska said he could tell Markstrom would be back to form after a brief phone call over the summer. 

“From the start of the year on, he set a bit of a tone or mood for our team in regards to how he came back over the summer,” Huska said. “I think a lot of people looked to him to see how he would respond. When his teammates came back to see the mentality or shape that he was in and the edginess he had, I think that rubbed off on a lot of people. He carried it over with his play in games.”

“He battles on the ice every practice, every game,” Backlund said. “In the room, he talks when he has to. Just his presence…he’s a big part of this group.”

The silver lining in Markstrom’s injury is that it opens the door for Wolf, a seventh-round pick in 2019 who has steadily risen through the ranks and won at both the junior and American Hockey League level.

Fans have been clamouring for the reigning AHL MVP to get a run with the big club and, for at least the next week, he will get his chance. Wolf has two NHL starts under his belt, including a loss in Ottawa earlier this season. He has 10 wins and a .920 save percentage this season with the Wranglers. 

“Terrible thing to happen to Marky yesterday, but it’s an opportunity for myself to hopefully get an opportunity to play some games and just be around this atmosphere and the guys,” Wolf said Tuesday.

He’s also getting used to adjusting to the different styles of play from the AHL to the NHL.

“Guys are so much better [in the NHL] at tipping pucks and getting in your face and getting in your eyes and making it difficult for you to see things,” he said.

It was only a week ago that Vladar came in on short notice to steal a victory over the Vegas Golden Knights, a start that Huska called Vladar’s “best game of the year.” He, too, has a chance to seize the net. 

“[Vladar] deserves it,” Huska said. “The door has opened a crack because of an injury to Jacob and now it’s up to them to really push and take advantage of their opportunity.”

The coach also dropped a hint that, given Markstrom’s fiery nature, he might not be out for very long. 

“If he could hardly move around, he would want to play,” Huska said, laughing. “That’s just the way he is… [the fracture] is not something we’re expecting to be anything long term, which is a great thing.”