Markstrom needs to be better — but so does the Flames team in front of him

Ryan Leslie and Eric Francis tee up the Calgary Flames' Game 3 against the Edmonton Oilers, saying the team must find a way to slow down Connor McDavid and goaltender Jacob Markstrom is not solely to blame for his high goals-against totals.

CALGARY — In the first round he was taken for granted.

In the second round some suggest he’s been taken to the cleaners.

In both cases, the narrative surrounding Jacob Markstrom has been grossly unfair.

The Calgary Flames did not lose home-ice advantage Friday because of their netminder. But that’s life between the pipes, where fair counts as much as almost making a save.

In the opening two games against the Oilers, Markstrom has allowed 11 goals – thirteen if you buy into Jay Woodcroft’s repeated reminders two goals were called back Friday.

To put that in perspective, the Vezina Trophy finalist allowed just 11 goals in the seven-game series against Dallas.

Yet, despite leading the loop in goals-against average in the first round, Markstrom’s stellar playoff start was overshadowed by Jake Oettinger. 

Only now are people talking about Markstrom, but not the way anyone could have foreseen.

In Game 1 he let in two goals he’d like to have back, before drawing praise from teammates for preventing a seventh goal in the third period of a 9-6 win.

After Game 2 they praised him for keeping the Flames in the game, which he did with a handful of monstrous saves on Evander Kane, Zach Hyman and Kailer Yamamoto in the second period alone.

Yet, by night’s end he was unable to come up with the big stop on either Hyman or Leon Draisaitl in alone, which iced the 5-3 Oilers win.

Markstrom hasn’t played poorly, as much as the Oilers have been opportunistic against a Flames club that has abandoned the tight-checking structure that got them here.

Simply put they’ve left their goalie out to dry. 

“We did, we really did,” agreed Rasmus Andersson Saturday.

“It starts with the penalties, and then they get momentum from their power plays. Without Marky, we would have lost by even more. We didn’t do him any justice yesterday, that’s for sure.” 

Both goalies faced 40 shots Friday, but it was Edmonton that generated 16 high-danger chances to Calgary’s 11.

The Flames believe plenty of that has to do with how much room Connor McDavid has had in a penalty-filled series that favours the Oil. 

“When you think about it, if they’ve had 22-and-a-half minutes more open ice, meaning 4-on-5 or 4-on-4 — who does that help the very most in the NHL? Which player? Not even close,” said Sutter imploring his team to keep its nose clean, as he did early in the Dallas series.

“It’s like a shinny game. It’s like when we were kids, and there was one guy out there who had the puck all the time because it was so big and there was so much room. Same deal.”

McDavid has racked up six points in the first two games, including a net-front undressing that left the Flames goalie flat on his back following a deke that kickstarted Edmonton’s late, four-goal spree.

If the Flames can’t contain McDavid better, even an Oettinger-type performance can’t stop No. 97 from carrying the Oilers to the next round.

That said, Markstrom will also need to find a way to come up bigger in this series, and soon.

In the Oilers’ last three visits to Calgary, Markstrom has been victimized for 16 goals, giving him a 4.24 GAA and .868 save percentage against Edmonton this season.

Against the rest of the league he was 2.07 and .927.

“You can’t dwell on things,” said Markstrom, who didn’t allow a bad goal in Game 2 or the entire first round.

“Obviously, it’s been too many goals against for me. I have to be better, and we get a chance (Sunday). It’s 0-0 when the game starts.”

Markstrom has always been the first to fall on his sword, whether it’s warranted or not. 

Goaltending was considered one of the biggest advantages for the Flames entering this series, which certainly seemed to prove out seven minutes in when Mike Smith was pulled after three goals.

Since then, the Oilers have found a way to battle back from two four-goal deficits and a pair of two-goal deficits, capped by four unanswered goals in Game 2 Friday.

“I’m not pinning it on anybody,” said Sutter, whose club allowed three breakaways Friday. “That’s not fair at all. I think that the difference between Game 1 and 2 would be chances for and against and then break it into quality.

“He (responded Friday) night. I mean, you said the very same thing after Game 1 and he certainly responded last night. That’s a sign of not a guy who’s questioning how he’s playing. That’s a guy that wants to be the very best if he’s saying that. That’s a great attribute to have.”

As the backbone of a team and system that saw the Flames finish third in goals against this season, the 6-foot-6 Swede has been every bit as good as Brad Treliving expected he’d be when the GM signed him to a six-year, $36 million contract two years ago. 

A big part of what made the signing such a coup was that he not only snagged the free agent from a rival like the Canucks, but he outbid the Oilers for his services.

Markstrom had no interest the other day in discussing how close he came to being an Oiler, but suffice it to say the complexion of the Oilers (and likely this series) would be radically different if he’d signed up north.

He provides hope, not questions, for the Flames.

A confident, intense and resilient leader, Markstrom will almost certainly step up his game.

But only with the help of a group in front of him that returns to the structure and discipline that got them here.

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