Calgary Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom seems to be at a confidence crossroads.
He hesitated for a split second and made the wrong call in a race for a loose puck on the first shift and the result was catastrophic.
Deciding to race Sean Monahan for the puck, then dive to attempt to smother it, Markstrom missed. The puck ended up with Monahan, who found rookie Juraj Slafkovsky for the easy goal.
Defenceman Rasmus Andersson was the closest thing to a goalie in the crease on the play. The way Markstrom spoke after the game, he might think Andersson is a more capable netminder.
"I thought the guys did a great job, but once again I've got to be better," Markstrom said after the 2-1 loss to the Canadiens on Thursday, which saw Monahan finish with two assists in his return to the Saddledome. "I suck right now so I've got to step up. We're doing a good job, not letting many scoring chances in. But we can't start behind every game."
It's not the first time Markstrom has been hard on himself after a loss. And it might be the fifth time he let the first shot on goal go in. With backup Dan Vladar playing great hockey in his recent opportunities, including three of the previous four starts, Markstrom's playing time may continue to be tightened as he works on his mental sharpness.
"I think everybody saw what happened. And it's not a good play," Markstrom said when asked about his poor decision, which gave the Habs a lead just 13 seconds into the game.
The 32-year-old Swede is 8-6-2 with an .889 save percentage and 2.97 goals-against average. That's in stark contrast to his Vezina runner-up season last year when he posted a 2.22 GAA and .922 save percentage in the regular-season.
He was a star against the Dallas Stars in the first-round of the NHL playoffs, but struggled mightily against the Edmonton Oilers in the second.
Markstrom has said repeatedly the series didn't affect his confidence, but a tough first quarter of this season suggests something has changed. Especially when you compare his numbers to Vladar's. The backup has a less attractive record at 2-4-1 but owns a 2.70 GAA and .913 save percentage.
During a 45-second question period that seemed to take everyone aback, Markstrom indicated his game plan for improvement.
"Work harder," he said. "Work harder, stop more pucks."