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Do the Calgary Flames have a goaltending issue?



Calgary Flames starting goaltender Jacob Markstrom

Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter had little to say about his goaltending situation after Thursday night’s loss to the Buffalo Sabres.

He inserted backup Dan Vladar in Jacob Markstrom’s place with the Flames down 3-1 after 20 minutes but wasn’t about to offer any insight into the decision.

“Because you got two goalies,” he quickly stated.

There was no follow-up question.

Outside the organization, fans and media types are all talking about Markstrom and what looks like a shaky start to his season.

He allowed a goal to Bowen Byram on the first shot he faced this year. But he made enough saves for the win. Sutter chose to sit him and start Vladar for the next one in Edmonton. In Markstrom’s second start, a softie off the glove and in less than four minutes into the game. But that game also ended with a win. Over the Vegas Golden Knights.

On Thursday, he makes a stop after the puck goes through the five-hole, but thinks he has it covered. Dylan Cozens taps it home on the goal-line. Two more unanswered goals follow. One he almost certainly couldn’t see. Another a perfectly placed backhand on a sudden breakaway.

Results are all that matter. And Markstrom is 2-0. (Vladar took the loss against Buffalo allowing two goals in two periods, including the winner.)

But following an early exit from Round 2 against the Oilers in the playoffs that included ugly underlying numbers for the Vezina runner-up, there’s enough fodder to at least ask the question.

Do the Calgary Flames have a goaltending issue?

The short answer is probably not. Markstrom has at times during his relatively short Flames tenure been their best player. He had a stellar regular season last year, second only to Vezina winner Igor Shesterkin. Markstrom was in the eyes of many also the MVP of that opening playoff series against the Dallas Stars.

His entire team failed him against the Oilers — even though he’d be the first to admit his play was also sub-standard.

He’s not off to the start he wanted or expected, but Markstrom should be fine over time.

And with Vladar showing great progress from his rookie season last year, there’s someone to lean on a little more heavily, if needed.

Worst case scenario is Markstrom’s confidence is a little rattled from the playoff exit and early scrutiny. That may not have been helped by the decision to sit him in the first Battle of Alberta this season.

But you don’t go from Vezina to vapid from one playoff series to the next, or over a single summer.

Those who enjoy gambling would be better off putting a few bucks on Markstrom and the newly signed Vladar winning the William Jennings Trophy as they navigate their way through this choppiness.

In fact, with third in line to the crease Dustin Wolf toiling in Calgary with the AHL Wranglers, I’d argue this is the best goalie trio in any NHL franchise.

With a 3-1 record to start the year, the Calgary Flames have managed to orchestrate their best start since 2009. In spite of the challenges they’ve faced out of the gate.

Calls for Vladar to platoon or even take over as the starter this season are plenty premature.

The day will come where decisions have to be made. Vladar is signed for two more seasons after this one. Markstrom for three. And Wolf will be pushing his way up over that span as well.

But that time isn’t now.

Enjoy the depth, and the wins, while it lasts.

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