One of the Calgary Flames three stars on the night might not have been expected to stand out in their first win of the season. Erik Gudbranson was signed to be a depth defenceman who can provide some physical play, not assists.
And yet he paced the Flames with a pair of assists in the first period to put the team up 2-0. A lead they’d never relinquish in the 3-0 victory over the Detroit Red Wings.
The No. 1 star, however, should have been fully anticipated.
Jacob Markstrom can’t be the second best goalie for the Flames to be a playoff team. And the big Swede showed why was signed as a top-dollar free agent two summers ago.
He helped steal a game.
Flames played fine, but still trying to develop identity
The defence played a solid, fairly unremarkable (except for Gudbranson’s offensive stats) contest. The forwards were dedicated to being responsible. But it was Markstrom who got the Flames through the early onslaught and a second period that could have been a travesty.
The Flames goaltender had to make a half-dozen saves before his teammates tightened their skates.
“Jacob probably made the saves he had to and slowed the game down for us,” said Flames head coach Darryl Sutter.
“I think he made important saves at critical times that kept the momentum with us.”
Highlight-reel save might have been the turning point
Among the 33 saves Markstrom made to earn his fourth shutout in a Flames uniform was a highlight-reel, desperation dive early in the second period that would have swung the momentum even further away from the Flames.
With the Flames getting into some penalty trouble, Markstrom faced 14 shots in the second period alone. The Flames finished that 20-minute barrage with just three of their own.
“They got a lot of momentum. We got caught out on a lot of long shifts. They were throwing a lot of pucks at the net, at me,” said Markstrom, who allowed three powerplay goals against in the first two games but shut the Red Wings down on Thursday.
“We take pride in (the penalty kill) and me as the goalie needs to be the best penalty killer out there.”
Flames will thrive slowing down the pace
Although the scoresheet showed it as a lopsided win, a lesser game by Markstrom and the Flames come away from the rink with a very different feeling.
But this is the Calgary Flames way. They got goals from their stars (Elias Lindholm from Johnny Gaudreau and an empty netter from Matthew Tkachuk) but also from their secondary scorers (Andrew Mangiapane).
They’ve clearly bought into the 200-foot game. They rely on some physical inspiration, and need their defence to be invisible for all the right reasons.
And they need their goaltender to be one of their best players.
“It was a big game for us. For me personally too” said Markstrom, who snapped his stick after the OT loss at home on Monday. “I was not happy with my performance last game so it was important for me to have a good game. I played a little better, which I needed to do.”
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