Jacob Markstrom made a big save in the final minute as the Calgary Flames desperately tried to press for another goal.
The stop on Tampa Bay Lightning forward Brandon Hagel looked effortless — a quick glove snag made easier by his solid positioning.
Unfortunately, it was too little, and way too late.
And while the season is still young, American Thanksgiving is next week. If the Flames can’t get more consistent goaltending, that 'too little, too late' cliche could apply to their entire 2022-23 NHL campaign.
By no means was the Calgary Flames to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday squarely on the shoulders of Markstrom. They got one goal in support on the night. And that came on the powerplay. Not much in the way of high-danger chances were generated by the Flames at even-strength. That was their strength a year ago.
But so was goaltending.
Coming off a Vezina-worthy season that saw him earn a league-leading nine shutouts, a low goals-against average and high save percentage, Markstrom is struggling to find that same form right now. He knows it, and hates it. Markstrom may be the most competitive player on the team.
A 6-5-2 record with a 3.06 GAA and .887 save percentage is not what he expected. It’s not what anyone imagined as the team approaches the quarter pole on the season.
“If you look at strictly the numbers, I’ve got to be better. I have to step up here,” Markstrom told reporters in Tampa post-game. “We have a great team and we’re playing good and we’re throwing a lot of pucks on their net, and pucks are going to find a way into their net.
“And I’ve got to keep them out.”
The Flames outshot the Lightning by nearly double. It was 40-24 on the clock at the final buzzer. And despite the lopsided score, it was a close game until about five minutes into the third period. Had even one of two major moments in the game turned out differently, the Flames might have walked out of Amalie Arena as winners.
The first was the reversal of what would have been Milan Lucic’s first goal of the season. The first-period goal was overturned on Bolts coach Jon Cooper’s challenge for an offside. Half a minute later, Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos scored the game’s official opener.
Nikita Kucherov padded the lead on a second-period powerplay. But things were still within reach and Elias Lindholm netted his seventh of the year while the Flames were on a powerplay early in the third.
That second major moment that came 10 seconds later was a back-breaker.
After a dump-in, Flames rearguard MacKenzie Weeger pushed the puck up the boards. Winger Blake Coleman missed it and Tampa defenceman Philippe Myers casually one-timed the puck on net.
Markstrom somehow missed it. The two-goal lead was restored and the Flames never really got close again.
“We get it back to a one-goal lead and then they score right after. That can’t happen,” Markstrom said. “Quick shot but, you know, I gotta find a lane there and do a better job with that, to catch the release.
“There’s always people in front of you. I’ve got to do a better job of finding those shots.”
Markstrom wasn’t really screened but suggested you can sometimes “screen yourself.” That is just a matter of tracking the puck, and there have been times this season when he hasn’t done as good a job of it as he has in years past.
His glove hand seems to be a target, and there have been a number of goals where he seems to be sinking back into his net rather than confidently coming to the top of the crease to cut down on the angle.
It’s almost like he’s anticipating errors from the guys in front of him.
There’s fault there, too. The Calgary Flames are still trying to re-discover their identity after a summer of significant change. Losing Oliver Kylington indefinitely for personal reasons, the departure of Erik Gudbranson, and injuries to Chris Tanev and Michael Stone – who hasn’t yet returned – have made the back end a work in progress. The No. 6 spot is a revolving door, and the regulars are looking lost at times in their own end.
But Lucic says they all stand together as they search for consistency across the board.
“It’s a team game,” Lucic said when told Markstrom was shouldering much of the blame as the modest two-game win streak was snapped.
“He has our back and we have his back. We all know what he’s capable of. He’s one of the best goalies in the league.
“So we have full confidence in him and we want him to have full confidence in himself.”