In a recent sit-down with Sportsnet.ca, Jacob Markstrom was asked to put a letter grade on his performance last season.
“If ‘A’ is good, I’ll give a ‘Y,’” said the Calgary Flames netminder, always the harshest critic of his work.
Following a 45-save shutout in Pittsburgh on Thursday night, his letter grade wasn’t up for debate.
All discussion following the game included superlatives for the Six Million Dollar Man whose 45 saves were not only the most stops in a shutout since the Flames relocated to Calgary, but were chiefly responsible for preserving the best road trip the franchise has had in 14 years.
The stellar workload included a desperate paddle save early in the second period fans will be talking about for some time.
“That’s insane,” said Johnny Gaudreau of a goal line save on Drew O’Connor that preserved a 1-0 goal as part of a big bunch of stellar stops in a game the plucky Penguins lost 4-0.
“I think he might have had two of those on this road trip. It’s becoming an every-day thing with him," Gaudreau, typically a man of few words, continued.
“He saved our bacon one too many times -- not only this game but throughout the entire road trip,” said Gaudreau, whose first of the season was a dandy roof job that beat Casey DeSmith in alone.
“What’s that, two shutouts on this road trip? Obviously one of the best goalies I’ve ever played with. It’s great to see him doing well back there. He faced a lot of shots tonight, but he stuck with it.”
Did he ever, shutting the door on a steady barrage of Penguins chances in the first when the Flames spent more than four minutes killing penalties, including a 5-on-3, to preserve the lead Gaudreau gave them.
“I think our goalie was outstanding and I think our penalty killing kept us from being tied,” said Flames coach Darryl Sutter, whose club killed all four penalties and blocked 15 shots.
“On the 5-on-3, Jacob made two or three ten-bellers.”
The biggest? The paddle-job.
“The first shot from the top they had a guy screening … and it hit my pad and his skate and then it’s just desperation,” explained Markstrom, who dove back towards the net with stick out-stretched as O’Connor shot the rebound from the top of the crease into what looked like an empty net.
“I wanted to get something covering the ice at least because it’s tough for guys in front of the net to turn and shoot. It was pure luck. I’ll take it though.”
In the team’s first perfect 5-0 roadie since 2007, the Flames outscored opponents 11-0 in the first period, allowing the team to stick to its game plan, which will forever include getting solid netminding.
It worked, twisting the narrative following two season-opening losses into a first-place spot in the Pacific Division the team hasn’t held alone since Jan. 11, 2020.
Perhaps more impressive, the team sits third in the NHL.
You read that right.
A goalie saving 106 of his last 107 shots over the last three outings can do that for you.
It’s early, but for a team that has struggled to open the last 10 seasons, it’s a good sign when your franchise netminder opens with a 1.59 GAA and .952 save percentage.
Asked what his 10th career shutout meant to him, the affable Swede was predictably quick to point out the blocked shots by Chris Tanev, and the yeoman’s work by Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington and Michael Stone in Noah Hanifin’s absence (upper body, day-to-day).
“It usually means we win --that’s important,” he smiled, before climbing on a plane bound for Calgary where the 5-1-1 Flames will host Philadelphia on Saturday.
“It’s a lot more fun to travel after a win than after a loss. No one was happy after the first two games. We’ve had team dinners on the road and guys have been able to get to know each other. It has been good. We’ve got to keep the foot on the gas and keep going when we get home.”
Despite missing five of their top six players, the red-hot Penguins managed 15 shots on goal in each period, which had Markstrom putting on a clinic before Blake Coleman’s point blast early in the third period added some cushion.
Midway through the third, Dillon Dube and Milan Lucic scored a minute-and-a-half apart to cement the win in a game the Flames were outshot 45-35.
“It’s huge,” said Gaudreau, the league’s fifth-leading scorer, of the team’s five-game road sweep.
“In this organization it has been a while since we’ve had a start like this. I’m really proud of the guys.”