Vladar’s reliability a luxury for Flames as Markstrom works on game

Florida Panthers forward Patric Hornqvist, right, crashes into Calgary Flames goalie Dan Vladar during second period NHL hockey action in Calgary, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

CALGARY — Dan Vladar doesn’t suck at hockey.

Good thing, as it opened the door for the Calgary Flames’ coach to alter his approach to his goalie rotation.

Well known for his penchant for leaning on his No. 1 netminder come hell or high water, Flames coach Darryl Sutter most certainly heard Jacob Markstrom’s crisis in confidence last week.

The rough outing that led Markstrom to declare he “sucks at hockey right now” was enough to make the coach pivot.

He confirmed the decision to give Vladar rare, back-to-back starts was made with an eye on giving Markstrom more time to recalibrate, find his game and build confidence.

“I talked to them guys about it,” said Sutter of Markstrom’s over-the-top self-assessment after his gaffe against Montreal just 13 seconds in.

“It’s the best position we have on our team, that’s for sure.

“That’s just because Marky came out and said that, right?

“If you look at it the last two weeks, our goals against has gone from 30th to 13th. Keep making progress.”

Is he worried about Markstrom’s comments?

“Not a chance,” said the coach.

Nor should anyone else be, said Markstrom in a decidedly more upbeat chat with the media Tuesday.

“Short memory — as a goalie in this league you need to have that,” said Markstrom, who said he feels good after spending plenty of time with goalie coach Jason Labarbera the last few days.

“I think you need to have it or else you’re in the wrong occupation.

“It didn’t do really well in school, but it was really good on the ice.”

Laughs all around — the best medicine at a time when Markstrom’s strong words were concerning to those worried about his mindset.

He said that he’s always had the same approach to tough nights.

“The only thing different is how you address it with the media,” said Markstrom, who can always be counted on to satisfy media requests.

“Over the years, sometimes you’re still upset and still angry and frustrated, and that carries over in an interview 15 minutes after the game.

“If you wait an hour and ask me the same question, you would get a completely different answer.

“That’s my competitiveness, and that’s what made me who I am today. That’s always going to be there.”

Sounds like a guy who feels ready to get back into some game action.

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How much time Sutter will give Markstrom to settle is anyone’s guess, as no one would be surprised if the veteran returned to the net Wednesday against Minnesota.

However, Vladar’s solid play of late gives Sutter the luxury of waiting until Friday to start Markstrom in Columbus, which would make plenty of sense, given his familiarity with Johnny Gaudreau and the fact the Blue Jackets are one of the league’s worst teams.

That way Vladar can get the tougher assignment against Toronto Saturday.

Vladar won his third start in a row Monday, with an 18-save performance against Arizona that featured a kick-save with 74 seconds left to preserve a one-goal lead.

His emergence as a reliable backup last season and early this year buys plenty of time for Markstrom to iron out his deficiencies without the pressure of costing his team two points with mistakes he’s working hard to remedy.

Quite a luxury, as these Flames can go only as far as their $6-million man can take them.

“His save percentage has gone up almost 10 per cent (and his GAA has gone down almost 10 per cent) over the last two-and-a-half weeks,” said Sutter, of Markstrom’s stop-rate, which sits at .889 – far off his .922 standard last season.

“We need both of them to do that. We’ve got to keep moving.

“If we don’t get on the first page in goals against and save percentage, we won’t make the playoffs.

“We’re moving that way. That’s the big picture.”

Vladar sits at .914, with a 2.54 GAA, which is almost half a goal better than Markstrom’s 2.97 GAA.

What’s so perfect about the tandem is that the two are good chums, doing well to help one another through this stretch.

The 25-year-old Vladar is doing Markstrom and the team a solid by stepping up at a crucial juncture in the season, as the 12-10-3 Flames struggle to distance themselves from the .500 mark.

In turn, Markstrom has been shown repeatedly on broadcasts helping Vladar from the bench during timeouts with various tips and reminders to breathe while doing his best to share laughs to keep the youngster calm.

“We push each other every day and he’s been playing unreal,” said Markstrom.

“It’s the same in practice as it is in games, as he is with me when I’m playing. We’re a team and I love Vladdy, and the progress he made the last two years is unbelievable. I think he’s going to be a really good goalie in this league for a really long time.

“It’s great for our team, he’s standing on his head right now, and I couldn’t be happier every time he makes a save or every time we score a goal.”

That relationship and attitude have made it easy for Sutter and the coaching staff to take pressure and starts off Markstrom’s plate, as fans and observers have been clamouring for since last season, when Markstrom ultimately faltered against Edmonton after a 63-start campaign, followed by 12 post-season appearances.

“You try to set a schedule, sort of, at the start of the year to make sure Vladdy was getting more minutes this year, based on performance,” said Sutter, when asked if he’s changed his tack of late.

“But it’s still very hard to do because of the schedule.

“It changes every week.

“It changes for me depending on performance, schedule, talking with the coaches, and trying to map something out.

“It’s hard to do.”

Much easier when you have the options he does.

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