Markstrom’s franchise-record offer will be part of second-half storylines for Flames

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OK, so Jacob Markstrom’s buddy was exaggerating a bit.

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At the NHL All-Star Party in Las Vegas, Calgary Flames winger Johnny Gaudreau was presented with the opportunity to shout out a teammate who may not have been recognized enough in the league.

“I think our goaltender in Calgary, Jacob Markstrom, is flying under the radar,” Gaudreau replied. “He’s crazy good. He has, like, 100 shutouts this year already.

One hundred is a bit of an exaggeration.

But Markstrom’s true stat line — a league-best seven goose eggs in 33 starts so far this season — is still very impressive.

In fact, one of the second-half storylines for the Flames will be Markstrom’s attempt to break the franchise record for most shutouts in a single campaign.

Miikka Kiprusoff delivered 10 clean sheets en route to Vezina Trophy honors with another team coached by Darryl Sutter in 2005-06. Markstrom has been on the beat for 14.

As former Flames goaltender Jamie McLennan, now an analyst for TSN, said, “You’re on the right track if your name is mentioned in the same sentence as Miikka Kiprusoff.

Isn’t that the truth.

The people of Saddledome return from the all-star break with Wednesday’s game against the Pacific Division-leading Vegas Golden Knights (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet 360/Sportsnet 960 The Fan). With a win, the hosts would draw within three points of the Golden Knights standings – and with four games in hand.

There’s plenty of credit for everyone, but Markstrom has been key in Calgary’s cruise to a 23-13-6 record so far.

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If the valiant starter is flying under the radar, as Gaudreau suggested, he shouldn’t be.

The 32-year-old has a 2.20 goals-against average and .923 save percentage, finding himself in elite company in both categories. In the NHL, no one else had more than four shutouts before the All-Star festivities.

According to Clear Sight Analytics, Markstrom also ranks in the Top 5 in “savings contribution rating,” which measures the difference between expected goals allowed – based on the quality of the scoring chances – and actual goals allowed.

It’s the kind of impact fans expected, or at least hoped for, when the Flames signed the ultra-competitive Swede to a six-year, $36 million deal as a free agent in 2020.

There were periods of brilliance from the No. 25 in his first winter at Cowtown, but he also struggled through a spell after being injured in a collision outside his crease.

“I see a lot more confidence, and I think health is part of that,” said McLennan, who had a career-high four shutouts in 24 starts for the Flames in 2003-04. “Last year he was with a new organization, he settled in, he had the coaching change, he had the injury… It just seemed like it was piling up.

“From goalie to goalie, looking at him, he’s got all the tools a superstar wants – size and mobility, handles the puck well, great demeanor, can play back-to-back situations because he’s strong enough. to handle this. He has all the tools to be a superstar, and I believe he is. Last year, it didn’t really go well. I think there have been surges, but the consistency that was there for the previous two years in Vancouver, where he was their back-to-back MVP, is more the Markstrom we’re seeing this year.

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“He’s just a backbone. And man, that gives a team confidence, knowing you’ve got a rock star in the net.

With their commitment to Sutter’s fail-first philosophy, the Flames have some of the stingiest defensive stats in the NHL in 2021-22. They rarely ask Markstrom to steal games, but they still need him to be rock solid.

In his most recent shutout, a 1-0 overtime squeaker against his old Vancouver pals on Jan. 29, he was tested just 15 times in 60 minutes and changed.

“It might not cross most people’s minds, but the first thing that impressed me was how mentally he was able to adapt to the fact that he no longer does facing just as many shots as before,” Kelly said. Hrudey, who has had a long career between the pipes and is now a regular in the broadcast booth for Sportsnet’s coverage of Flames games. “When you look at the life of a Vancouver Canuck, many nights he was bombarded with over 30 or 35 shots. As a goalkeeper, and it’s been known for a million years, you put yourself in a rhythm and it’s… I can’t say it’s easy to play, but it’s a bit easier to know that you are going to have a lot of work to do and you have the possibility of forgetting a bad goal or a soft goal rather quickly. Whereas in a system like the Flames and when you only face, for example, 15 shots against the Canucks, it’s hard to do mentally because the mind tends to wander a little.

“You always walk into every game, whether you’re a skater or a goalkeeper, not to think, just to react and react to every situation. But when you have a lot of downtime, it’s really hard for your mind not to start thinking a little about inactivity. So that was the #1 thing that caught my attention – that he was able to refocus his attention on low-fire plays and be ready for those.

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Now, with 40 dates remaining on an 82-game slate, he has a good shot at writing his name in the Flames franchise record books.

For what it’s worth, Kiprusoff didn’t deliver his seventh donut of 2005-06 until early March. Markstrom is already there.

“I think that’s more than I had in my NHL career. It’s mind-blowing to me,” Hrudey marveled, not giving himself enough credit for his 17 shutouts in a time when the scores were high. “To have seven shutouts at this point, halfway through the season, is phenomenal. This tells you about his mental strength and focus.

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Twitter.com/WesGilbertson

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