The Calgary Flames are facing a conundrum heading into Saturday’s home clash with the Washington Capitals.
The Flames, who started the season with high expectations but have been a middling club at best, must decide what to do about their massive question between the pipes. No. 1 goaltender Jacob Markstrom has struggled to the point his confidence has seemingly plummeted.
Markstrom, who has been nowhere near the level of past seasons, was extremely hard on himself after Thursday’s 2-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens in which he could be pinpointed as the main culprit for both goals against on a night his team dominated play.
“I just suck at hockey right now,” Markstrom said. “I’ve got to step up. We’re playing good hockey and not letting many scoring chances in. Can’t start behind every game.”
Therefore, questions about whether the Flames will turn again to the struggling Markstrom (8-6-2, 2.97 goals-against average, .897 save percentage) or give the start to backup Dan Vladar, who has both a better GAA (2.70) and save percentage (.913), although a losing record (2-4-1).
“I don’t think he sucks at hockey,” coach Darryl Sutter, who wouldn’t divulge on Friday who he planned to start in goal, said of Markstrom. “He has high expectations of himself. At the end of the day, that’s the bottom line. It’s better to have high expectations than be a 50-50 guy.”
The goaltending issue adds another layer to the team’s issues, which have notably been a lack of offensive punch — the Canucks outshot the Canadiens 46-19 in defeat — and an inability to string together victories.
“At the end of the day, we know what kind of person Marky is and he’s going to battle. There’s no doubt in our mind that he’s the guy,” center Nazem Kadri said.
As for his team’s offensive woes, Kadri added: “Honestly man, it seems every time there’s a game like that — a goalie’s making 40-45 saves. As the season unfolds, I think those are going to drop and we’ll score more. I think our foundation is good, you just have to finish.”
The Flames, who have lost four of five games (1-3-1), aren’t the only team looking for a rebound performance when the teams hit the Saddledome ice.
The Capitals are struggling to simply to reach the .500 mark, victims of a litany of injury issues as well as inconsistency. They arrive in Calgary after blowing a 2-0 lead in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken on Thursday.
It wasn’t just the final result that had coach Peter Laviolette fuming. Despite his team taking a 2-0 first-period lead, he wasn’t fooled. The Capitals were fortunate to be ahead after a period in which they managed only four shots on goal and surrendered just as many odd-man rushes.
“Not enough of the right things,” Laviolette said. “Everywhere, everywhere, the whole night, all three periods. There’s nothing I’m happy about.”
Washington has a 1-1-1 record midway through a season-long, six-game road swing. On the flip side, the Capitals can boast about being on a 3-1-1 run.
“Our game has definitely been trending upwards,” goaltender Darcy Kuemper said. “We might not have had our best stuff or all our legs (on Thursday). We got off to a lead and unfortunately couldn’t hang on to the two (points), but we got a point and we’ve just got to keep collecting as many as we can.”
One positive for the Capitals is the play of Alex Ovechkin. Thanks to a pair of assists in Seattle, the Washington captain has collected eight points (four goals, four assists) in his past five games.
–Field Level Media