I’m not sure when Dan Vladar will start again. The Calgary Flames goaltender went a couple of weeks without game action before suiting up in Pittsburgh.
What I do know is he’s got one of the hardest jobs on the entire roster — on any NHL roster — and he’s thriving. Not only is he capable of starting again Friday or Saturday in back-to-back contests against Washington and Carolina to close out a six-game swing, he deserves to.
And that’s a fantastic thing for the Flames as they attempt to figure out the right mix of players, pairings and line combos in front of the blue paint. Being expected to always be ready but rarely be called upon can be mentally exhausting. It's a spot many Flames goalies found themselves in behind Miikka Kiprusoff. And it's not much different for Vladar behind Jacob Markstrom.
“That’s what the backup has gotta do is come in and try to steal you a game,” Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter said after Vladar helped the Flames get to the shootout in a 2-1 loss to the Penguins on Wednesday. “He got us one (point).”
It was a wild game full of emotion. Vladar didn’t show much.
The adversity included a lengthy pre-game ceremony, which isn’t ideal for any goaltender. After warmup and a national anthem or two (most prefer one), they’re ready to go.
But Evgeni Malkin’s celebration of 1,000 games set the start time back considerably. Players were restricted to the bench, so Vladar couldn’t even stretch.
“It wasn't the best when you have that pregame ceremony,” Vladar said after the game.
“I didn't play almost for two weeks and then I'm sitting for 10 minutes on the bench. It's kind of hard — and the second shot goes in.”
His friend Jan Rutta fired a shot past Vladar’s blocker in the opening minutes after a great drop pass from Jeff Carter left him with an open lane.
Another goal was disallowed a few minutes later because the play was offside.
Nothing else beat Vladar until the shootout, where he stopped one potential game-winner but couldn’t quite get enough leather on Malkin’s winner. He stopped 37 of 38 in regulation and another one in the overtime session with the Flames taking a penalty in OT for the third time this season.
This one didn’t end like the others.
That’s because of Dan Vladar.
He rejected Carter, Rickard Rakell, Bryan Rust, Jason Zucker and Kris Letang in memorable fashion. The Flames legitimately have faith their backup can not only keep them in games, he can win games. Or steal them.
Vladar got some help from his defencemen, especially Chris Tanev and Nikita Zadorov in overtime. But he was the unquestioned first star for the visitors.
“We didn't get the outcome, but I still think a good point,” said Vladar, who has played twice this month so far.
“Happy? That’s a tough word to say. We didn’t win. I would rather win 8-7, you know?”
One of those totals might have come to fruition if not for Vladar’s play.
Keep in mind that most top goaltenders like to play a lot and get into a rhythm. Sutter had suggested early in the season he wanted to give Vladar more starts. One a week. But later he said there is a different between wanting to do something and being able to do it. Markstrom is the reigning Vezina runner up and Sutter plans to ride him. But the more Vladar shows he’s ready for increased responsibility, the more likely he is to get it.
If nothing else, he’s showing that he can do what so many NHL backups can’t.
Play like a starter in limited opportunities.
It’s a tough job. But Vladar seems thrilled to be able to do it.