Even if Markstrom misses significant time, Flames should be just fine

Calgary Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom makes a glove-save during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Vegas Golden Knights, Thursday, March 16, 2023, in Las Vegas. (Ellen Schmidt/AP Photo)

CALGARY – The save was spectacular.

The repercussions could be costly, but nothing the Flames can’t handle.

Midway through an otherwise typical Monday morning practice for the Calgary Flames, Jacob Markstrom reached back with his blocker to make an incredible save on an odd-man rush drill. 

With the glove turned backwards, the shot hit his right hand and immediately prompted the netminder to shake off his mitt in pain.

Chris Tanev was standing next to his long-time teammate and summoned for medical staff, but Markstrom got up and skated quickly to the bench and down the hall holding out his hand in some distress, as a significant amount of blood dripped from it.

Not ideal.

GM Craig Conroy immediately headed down to the locker room, where Markstrom packed up and left the building, presumably on his way to get X-rays and consult with experts on the extent of the damage.

Coach Ryan Huska had no update on the condition of his starter, saying only, “he’s gone to get evaluated.”

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Even if the damage is only skin deep, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the 33-year-old Swede would be able to be back on the ice Tuesday, as holding his stick would likely come with significant discomfort and risk of making the injury worse.

Worst-case scenario could be a broken finger that could keep him out upwards of a month or two.

Either way, Dustin Wolf flew back with the AHL Wranglers from Vegas on Monday and will almost certainly be summoned immediately to back up Dan Vladar for Tuesday’s home game against Minnesota.

Bank on it, as the Flames are keen to see as much of Wolf at the NHL level as possible, anyway.

Fortunately for the Flames, the organization has long seen its goaltending depth as one of its biggest strengths, as Wolf continues to show he’s the planet’s best netminder not in the NHL.   

Coming off four straight years in which he was named the top goalie in his league, the reigning AHL MVP made 43 and 32 saves in respective wins on the weekend in Henderson, Nev. Wolf is now 10-3-2 with a 2.50 GAA and a .920 save percentage this season.

The Flames have no worries about starting the 22-year-old if needed. 

While losing a starter would be crippling to many teams, the Flames have already seen backups step up both times Markstrom missed action with ailments this season.

Last week Markstrom came down ill hours before the game, thrusting Vladar into a start that saw him steal two points form the defending Cup champs.

Asked how he would handle having Wolf and Vladar as his netminders moving forward, Huska said, “same as we always would.”

“We’ll see what happens today (with Markstrom’s results), but we would have a rotation set in advance for whatever we have to deal with,” said Huska, who gave Wolf his second NHL start in Ottawa earlier this season in a 4-1 loss that saw him make 34 stops.

“We’ll be fine. 

“We’re just looking forward to some good news today.”

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Following a nightmarish season last year, Markstrom has been a good-news story this year, as perhaps the most consistent Flame all season.

Unlike the previous season, he has given his team a chance to win almost every night, fighting back on many nights during the team’s recent surge to get the win despite allowing the first goal with regularity. 

He’s played much better than his 6-8-2 record, .896 save percentage and a 2.94 goals-against average would suggest.

“From the start of the year, he set a bit of the tone or the mood for our team in terms of how he came back over the summer and I think a lot of people looked to him to see how he would respond,” said Huska.

“When his teammates came back to see the mentality or the shape that he was in and the edginess he had, I think that rubbed off on a lot of people.

“He carried that over with his play in games. 

“Earlier in the year, the games could have been much worse if it wasn’t for his play earlier on. 

“So he’s been excellent, he really has, in a lot of different ways.”

For a team that’s had to deal with a series of injuries, suspensions, call-ups, a trade, endless speculation and the threat of significant change, you get the feeling they’ll be able to handle this potential test as well.

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