DENVER — There’s no hiding the fact goaltending has been the biggest reason the Calgary Flames are losing ground in the playoff race almost nightly.
Since the All-Star break, the club’s duo has a league-worst save percentage of .847.
The only numbers uglier revolve around the seven times Jacob Markstrom has failed to stop the first shot on goal.
On Saturday, he allowed the first two in.
But while the narrative seems pretty cut and dried on a 4-1 loss to the Avalanche, there’s a reality that is far too often ignored:
The defence in front of him has struggled.
Someone finally stood up and said so.
“I take responsibility – that loss was on me,” said former Avs rearguard Nikita Zadorov, capping a horrid evening of missteps and missed assignments.
“I was on the ice for three goals against.
“First goal, bad positioning, second goal I should have blocked it. And the third goal I just got walked.
“So, definitely the worst timing to get worst game of your career.”
Walked is putting it politely, as his Junior C attempt at trying to stop Denis Malgin coming over the blue line made the Avs depth winger look like Pave Bure.
It’s an issue no one could have foreseen at the beginning of the year, when some wondered aloud if the Flames had one of the best defensive groups in the NHL.
Not so, compounding the goaltenders’ crisis in confidence into the team’s story of the year.
“Our defence got beat 1-on-1 a lot,” started Darryl Sutter. “Four goals against, including not getting pucks out and killing penalties.”
Sure, Markstrom needs to find a way to mix in another save or two in an opening stretch in which he allowed three goals on ten shots.
But you’d be hard pressed to blame him on any on this night, starting with the first one in which Nathan MacKinnon was allowed to walk in unscathed to beat him cleanly from 15 feet out.
The second bounced in through traffic, as did the third, setting the stage for Malgin to walk in alone with a roof job that had to surprise even Malgin.
“It’s easy to look at first shot and second shot and third shot and all that,” said Markstrom, when asked point blank about his struggle to make the first save in seven of his 39 starts.
“Obviously, it’s frustrating.
“You want to get a shot from the outside. There’s no warm-up shots in games.
“It’s up to me to be ready when there is a scoring opportunity.
“I need to come up with some saves to keep the guys in the game.”
Until he does, and until his teammates stop disintegrating in front of him, this team will continue fading away from a playoff spot that may already be too far out of reach.
“I think they scored on the opportunities that were probably classed as Grade-As,” said Sutter, accurately, when asked about Markstrom’s play.
“It’s not on anybody.
“We played the Stanley Cup champion, you can’t have one or two guys off.
“So, I wouldn’t blame it on any individual.”
Indeed, collectively, this team is on the ropes.
No trade is going to change that.
Sutter-coached clubs are generally sound defensively.
This one is not – not even close, as Zadorov highlighted with a horrific evening that stood out long before he threw himself on the sword.
Give credit to the Avs, as they’d returned home from a Friday game in Winnipeg in the wee hours of the morning, before reminding everyone they’re the defending champs.
“Obviously, they had a pretty good first period against us,” said Sutter of the 2-0 deficit that grew by a goal early in the second.
“But I think we had a chance with (2-0), right away, I think (Andrew) Mangiapane missed the empty net (he hit the post).
“And then we win a faceoff, but don’t get it out, and then we have to take a slashing penalty. Their power play makes it 3-0.
A Milan Lucic knockout punch delivered to Kurtis MacDermid late in the second gave the Flames some life, as Tyler Toffoli scored on the power play shortly thereafter.
But two goal leads – for either team – have proven to be a problem for the Flames entering the third.
“They came out and scored on their first couple of shots… it’s tough to recover after that,” said Nazem Kadri.
“Great fight by Looch, trying to get the guys going. I thought we showed some pushback but at the end of the day, it just wasn’t enough.”
Nothing seems to be these days, which could very well be the theme next week, as the Flames host Boston and Toronto before Friday’s swap deadline.
No, they won’t be trading for a goalie.
But you can bet the thought has crossed a few minds of late.
NOTE: Kadri’s popularity in Colorado was on full display when a 90-second video tribute in the first period had most fans standing from the outset, prompting an emotional series of chest thumps from the Stanley Cup ring holder as thanks.
“It’s amazing, just very classy,” said Kadri, who was instrumental in the Avs championship run last spring.
“It was hard not to get emotional.
“Obviously had some great years here, and the city and the fans just continue to support me, and that meant a lot to me.”