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The end-game for a goalie doesn’t change, regardless of what defensive system the team in front of them is playing. 

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It doesn’t matter if it’s zone, man-to-man or some sort of hybrid, the goalie just wants to keep the puck out of the back of the net. That’s the job. 

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And so far this season, Jacob Markstrom’s been doing a pretty good job of it for the Calgary Flames. In both the Flames’ 5-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday and their 5-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night, Markstrom has been their best player. 

While the team adjusts to its new life playing zone defence, Markstrom’s been turning pucks away wherever they’ve come from. 

But a new system means there are adjustments for a goalie, too. 

“It makes all the difference in the world,” Markstrom said during training camp of the switch to zone coverage. “If you’re changing something, it changes how the game is coming to me. I’m the last resort back there and how the guys move in front of me, that changes things, for sure.”
When Ryan Huska was hired as the Flames’ head coach back in the spring, he talked about making adjustments that would avoid giving opponents Grade A scoring chances. 

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And throughout camp, his players have spoken about the differences between man-to-man and zone. There’s been lots of talk about there being extra help in front of the net, the importance of communication and avoiding situations where players are chasing opponents around the defensive zone. 

All of that does make a difference for a goalie, too. 

“The goal stays the same for me, just stop the puck,” said Flames backup goaltender Dan Vladar. “But at the same time, we’re trying to take away the middle more and trying to have more guys in front, in those high danger areas. That changed, but we’ll probably see more point shots and tips.”
The Flames’ play in their defensive zone remains a work-in-progress, but through two games there can be no complaints about the way Markstrom seems to have adjusted. While the Penguins broke out for five goals in the third period on Saturday night, one of them was an empty-netter and the other four can hardly be blamed on the Flames shot-stopper. 

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Getting the puck out of their own zone cleanly has been a bit of a challenge through the first two games and the Penguins were lethal at capitalizing when opportunities presented themselves. 

Jacob Markstrom #25 of the Calgary Flames tends net as Jake Guentzel #59 of the Pittsburgh Penguins shoots the puck during the first period at PPG PAINTS Arena
Jacob Markstrom #25 of the Calgary Flames tends net as Jake Guentzel #59 of the Pittsburgh Penguins shoots the puck during the first period at PPG PAINTS Arena on October 14, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Photo by Jason Mowry /Getty Images

Will Markstrom be happy to have given up four goals-against? No, probably not, but he was excellent early and his play gave the Flames a chance. He was the reason they were up 1-0 after 40 minutes and again, can’t be faulted for any of the Penguins goals. 

“Marky was unbelievable early in the first,” said Flames rookie Matthew Coronato, who notched his first NHL goal against the Penguins. “He made some ridiculous saves, he kept us in it.”
That’s been the story through two games. Markstrom’s been great and there’s work to be done in front of him, but it’s probably inevitable that there are going to be some growing pains as the Flames adjust to playing a new defensive system. To a certain extent, every team around the NHL is using the early days of the regular season for fine-tuning and fixing mistakes. 

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For the Flames’ goaltenders, there are adjustments to be made, too. Vladar will surely get some playing time at some point during the Flames’ current five-game road-trip. Through two games, though, the early returns on Markstrom’s play and how he’s working within the new zone system are nothing but positive. 

“It’s just how the game moves, I think and how certain situations come,” Markstrom said. “At the same time, it’s my job to stop the puck wherever it comes from. No two games are the same, it’s always going to be different.”


The general takeaway from the Flames’ post-game media availabilities in Pittsburgh on Saturday night was that the Flames were happy with their own work ethic, but need to avoid the mental mistakes that led to the Penguins’ late-game onslaught. 

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“A little tough puck management to start, for sure,” Huska said in a video posted to Flames TV. “The tough part is we had a good first two periods when you look at it, we played a good solid road game to start with. Then, you let momentum get away from you and a few faceoff reads that were not there tonight, so it’s a tough one there to start with.”
The Flames liked the way they played in the opening 40 minutes. Huska said the second period was the best they’d played since the very start of pre-season and there was real improvement when compared to their win over the Jets. 

The third period doomed them, though, and it was the little details that cost the Flames. 

“We can’t lay off against a team like that,” said Flames winger Jonathan Huberdeau. “A couple mental mistakes we had in the third and they took advantage of that. Overall, the work ethic was great tonight, we worked hard, it’s just some mistakes that kind of turned the puck into the net.” 

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