Less than a week after publicly declaring that he “sucks at hockey,” Calgary Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom was a little more kind to himself after Tuesday’s practice.
The 32-year-old Swede’s self-criticism arose following a 2-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens last Thursday at the Saddledome where he gave up the first goal 13 seconds into the game and later pinned the defeat on himself. The Flames’ starter has watched teammate Dan Vladar pick up two straight wins for Calgary (12-10-3), who sit in third place in the Western Conference wild-card race heading into Tuesday night’s games.
"Sometimes you’re still upset and still angry and frustrated and that carries over into an interview 15 minutes after a game,” Markstrom said of the comments he made last week, “where if you wait an hour and ask me the same question you would get a completely different answer."
Flames head coach Darryl Sutter and his players have vouched for their goaltender. Sutter rightly pointed out that the Flames’ goaltending has improved as the season has progressed. Their five-on-five save percentage in October was 27th in the league (.904), and through six days in December it is ninth (.945).
“I trust our goalies,” Sutter said. “It’s the best position we have on our team, that’s for sure…if you look at it, in the last two weeks, our goals-against has went from 30th to 13th. So, keep making progress.”
Markstrom has been lauded by teammates for helping change the group’s culture because of his competitiveness. He chalked his post-game comments up to that trait.
“That’s what made me who I am today,” said Markstrom, who has a .889 save percentage and a 2.97 goals-against average in 17 starts so far this season. Over 395 career games, his save percentage is .911 with a 2.70 GAA.
In place of Markstrom, the 25-year-old Vladar has been stellar in recent games. In his last six starts, he has a .934 save percentage and a goals-against average under 2.00. The two have a strong relationship, and Markstrom’s been encouraging and helpful to his understudy as he tries to rediscover his own form.
Vladar made a cross-crease save in the dying minutes of Monday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes that preserved the 3-2 victory and is viewed by the Flames organization as a future No. 1 goaltender. He recently signed a two-year extension with the team.
“I love Vladdy, and the progress he made the last two years is unbelievable,” Markstrom said.
“I think he’s gonna be a really good goalie for a really long time.”
Nearly a third of the way through the 2022-23 season, the Flames aren’t quite where fans thought they’d be at this juncture. After an inconsistent start that included winning five of their first six games followed by a seven-game losing streak, Calgary has started to show signs of a turnaround.
In addition to the goaltending improvement, forwards Jonathan Huberdeau and Dillon Dube have started to produce, with each garnering seven points in their past eight games. Winger Andrew Mangiapane has looked better away from the puck and has three goals in that stretch as well. Still, this group will not score at will, the way last season’s team did, so keeping the puck out of their net is their key to success.
“We don’t get on the first page of goals-against, first page of save percentage, [we] won’t make the playoffs,” Sutter said.
The key to that, Markstrom feels, is simply having a short memory.
“I think you need to have it or else you’re in the wrong occupation,” he said ahead of Wednesday’s home game against the Minnesota Wild.
“Didn’t do very well in school but it was really, really good on the ice.”