Perhaps this is the moment – the chance for coach Darryl Sutter to realize what the rest of Calgary Flames observers have known for months.
It’s time to go with Dan Vladar.
Just like earlier in the year when he followed up Jacob Markstrom’s announcement he “sucked at hockey” by spelling him off for a few weeks, it’s time for the coach to switch his mindset.
Change his rotation.
Time for Markstrom to iron out his issues in practice, while Vladar goes in to give the Flames the best chance to win.
No, Markstrom hasn’t been as bad as many fans would have you believe by blaming him for every loss.
But the fact is, in almost every setback, the veteran netminder has at least one goal he’d like to have back.
When you lead the league with 32 one-goal games, that questionable goal can often be a killer.
That was certainly the case Monday in Ottawa when Markstom allowed a Tim Stutzle shot to squeeze through him in overtime, punctuating a five-game road trip in devastating fashion as the Flames fell 4-3.
Up 3-1 with three minutes to go in a game the Flames appeared to have complete control of, Markstrom and the Flames allowed two goals with Senators rookie goalie Mads Sogaard pulled.
One was a cashed-in rebound, the other was every bit as impossible as the odd-angle overtime goal Johnny Gaudreau scored to eliminate Dallas last year.
Perhaps unfair to blame Markstrom on either.
But it was a shot in overtime by Stutzle that will be the biggest talking point of a trip that ended with the Flames having a 2-1-2 record.
The 25th shot he faced all night squeezed through a hole under Markstrom’s blocker, ruining an otherwise positive evening.
“I thought we played a hell of a game – ran out of gas a little bit,” said Sutter.
“I thought we totally dominated the game.”
There wasn’t much else to say, as the Flames outshot the Sens 37-25 and controlled the game possession-wise, forechecking in such a manner they forced the hosts to turn the puck over 17 times (compared to three Flames’ cough-ups).
Yet there they were, skating off the ice with their heads down once again.
For the record, that’s seven losses in 11 outings that have gone beyond 60 minutes.
The difference, once again, is goaltending.
This time, Markstrom, the recent Vezina Trophy runner-up, was outplayed by a youngster making his third NHL start, and first in 10 months.
Sure, it can happen.
But it has been happening far too much to the Flames, costing them far too many points in a playoff race in which every point is crucial.
Meanwhile, the man relegated to the bench far too often has helped the team pick up points in 13 of his last 14 starts.
Enough is enough.
Sutter’s penchant for riding his starter through thick and thin has certainly served him well over the years.
Last year the success of his approach was debatable as Markstom’s brilliant regular season came crashing down at the end.
He hasn’t been the same goalie since.
No one is suggesting he won’t eventually find his game.
But time is running out on letting him play through this, the most frustrating string of his career.
The script needs to be switched immediately or this team will continue to struggle, treading water in a treacherous playoff race.
Fans are losing faith, especially since there is an easy solution: Vladar.
No, his goals-against average and save percentage aren’t miles ahead of Markstrom’s 2.93 and .891.
However, at 11-5-4, he’s simply given the Flames a better chance to win this year than the 33-year-old, who is 14-13-7 while struggling mentally and physically.
It’s time to give Markstrom another chance to reset while giving the team a better bet in net.
Monday’s late collapse overshadowed another brilliant evening by Tyler Toffoli (one goal) and Dillon Dube (two goals), who’ve combined for 11 points in their last two games.
It sent them home on the team’s charter for a four-and-a-half hour flight that would have landed them in Calgary in the wee hours of the morning, setting them up for a gutting day off.
“It’s tough,” said Mikael Backlund after the loss. “We played a really good game for 56, 57 minutes or so.
“And then we let it get out of our hands. It’s really tough and frustrating for sure.”
Markstrom’s struggles have mirrored those of a team that has still yet to win more than three games in a row this season.
His last back-to-back wins came just before Christmas.
With this Flames group, the margin for error is small, which is evidenced by the fact they’ve lost 20 of the 32 games decided by a goal.
There’s a better approach available – Vladar.
Surely, this coach has finally seen enough to understand it’s time to start leaning on him more.