After making history, Markstrom and Flames still hungry to achieve more

Matthew Tkachuk had a goal and an assist as the Calgary Flames beat the Philadelphia Flyers 4-0.

The goalie made Flames history, as did the team.

It’s getting kind of spooky how good these Calgary Flames are playing these days.

As the first goalie in franchise lore to rack up three shutouts in a four-game span, Jacob Markstrom helped stake the 6-1-1 Flames to their best October ever.

They haven’t trailed a game since their season opener and they’ve won six in a row to sit atop the Pacific division. They’re third in the NHL. For a team with a long history of poor starts – they hadn't won more than five of their opening ten in a decade – things couldn’t possibly be any better around the Dome these days.

Yet, true to the form you’d expect from a team coached by Darryl Sutter, none of the Flames were ready to punctuate Saturday’s 4-0 win over Philadelphia with any semblance of a celebration.

“We haven’t done much – there’s a lot of games left,” shrugged Markstrom, who has stopped 126 of his last 127 shots. “Come springtime we have to be our best team and play our best hockey. It’s a good start and we’ve put ourselves in a good position so far. But I don’t think anyone is happy. Those who were here last year have a sour taste and remember it was no fun at all.

“Everybody is hungry and our system is more down to the team now, and Darryl had a full training camp with us.”

Sutter’s focus before the game revolved around preventing the age-old letdown that generally comes following a road trip as successful as their 5-0 jaunt through the east.

Mission accomplished, which is saying something for a team that also has a recent history of following up torrid stretches with abysmal tailspins.

Not on this night.

Midway through Saturday’s fast, tight-checking matchup the visitors had just four shots on goal – a testament to the detail-oriented style the Flames now employ as fore-checking freaks.

The Flames' sublime puck movement all night long finally paid off midway through the game when Sean Monahan snapped a scoreless tie by redirecting a stellar Rasmus Andersson pass from the point past Carter Hart.

Demoted to a fourth-line checking role between Milan Lucic and Trevor Lewis most of the season, it was Monahan’s first goal of the year, coming on the power play where the 27-year-old coming off hip surgery has maintained his position on the first unit.

“It was obviously nice to put one in,” said Monahan, whose club enjoyed a 20-4 shot advantage at that point. “Good timing to do it. It put us up one, and we carried on from that.”

A three-time 30-goal scorer, Monahan insisted there’s nothing frustrating about his new lot in life.

“No, it hasn’t been frustrating at all,” said Monahan, who added a superb assist on Matthew Tkachuk’s third period goal and was stopped on several good scoring chances.

“It’s never frustrating when you’re winning games. We have a good team and we just won six in a row. We’re still not satisfied with what we’re doing, but we’re on the right page right now.”
Markstrom continues to be one of the biggest stories of the season, extending his shutout streak to 134:35 with a 20-save effort that was markedly different than the 45-save heist in Pittsburgh two nights earlier.

Unquestionably the league’s first star of the week, unless of course you consider the heroism of Kyle Beach.

In a defensive system like Sutter’s, the team has proven already to be comfortable clinging to one goal leads like they did until midway through the third when Tkachuk completed a pretty passing play with Elias Lindholm on the power play.

An empty netter by Mikael Backlund was followed by a snipe by Johnny Gaudreau that extended his point streak to seven games.

Everyone is getting in on the action, which has to make a team with a plus-14 differential one of the most surprising revelations early on.

And yes, the lads are right, it’s early.

“We were pretty good,” said Sutter, with rare public praise. “These guys went through a lot. That’s eight games in 15 days with a lot of time zones, a lot of late nights and a lot of travel. So it has to be a team game to win.”

It has been, but backed brilliantly by a Six Million Dollar Man who is sporting a 0.25 GAA and .992 save percentage over his last four.

“The other night was more physical but mentally you’re in it,” said Markstrom, asked to compare his last two shutouts. “Today was more mental. Stay focused and don’t get derailed and watch our guys play great in front of me. I don’t mind at all.”

A crowd of 15, 319 – almost 4,000 under capacity – didn’t mind either, as the entertainment value was high.

“Our group is hungry and the coaches have us in a good mindset where you want to start games the right way,” said Monahan, whose club hosts Nashville Tuesday. “When you do that we’re starting to learn to play with leads. That’s crucial at important times of the season.”

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