PITTSBURGH — Of the 700-and-some regulars in the National Hockey League, there might not be anyone more genuinely grateful for his spot in The Show than Dan Vladar.
As the Calgary Flames spend the US Thanksgiving holiday south of the border, the feeling is certainly mutual. Vladar was superb Wednesday, racking up 38 saves in what ended as a 2-1 shootout loss to milestone man Evgeni Malkin and the Pittsburgh Penguins on a special night at PPG Paints Arena.
“I would always hear him in his press conferences after games saying, ‘I’m just thankful to be here,’ and I would text him after and say, ‘You know what? We’re thankful to have you too, Vladdy,’ ”said Jordan Sigalet, who heads the Flames’ goaltending department, in an interview earlier this season. “I text him all the time and say, ‘Hey, we’re happy to have you and lucky to have you, too.’ ,
Vladar’s phone might have buzzed immediately after Wednesday’s low-scoring affair.
The Flames couldn’t have asked for much more from their second-string puck-stopper, tapped for just his fourth start of the season.
“That’s what the backup has gotta do is come in and try to steal you a game,” said Flames bench boss Darryl Sutter. “He got us one (point).”
While it wasn’t exactly the outcome that Vladar had in mind, the ending proved to be poetic.
Malkin, who joined the NHL’s 1,000-game club during a road date this past weekend, received his silver stick in a touching ceremony prior to the puck-drop. He was feted throughout the evening, with big-screen salutes from Penguins past and present, plus some of the biggest names in the sport.
The 36-year-old smoothie was tapped as Pittsburgh’s fourth shootout in the breakaway competition, ducking to his right and hoisting a backhand over an outstretched pad. The puck glanced off Vladar’s glove, the only snag that he missed all night.
Malkin celebrated by heaving his stick into the crowd as adoring fans once again chanted ‘Geno! Geno!
“I thought I had it,” Vladar groaned. “Good for him, but I could have saved that one.”
He saved just about everything else.
The Penguins scored just two minutes in, with Vladar’s close buddy Jan Rutta ripping a blocker-side shot, but Jacob Markstrom’s sidekick wouldn’t surrender another until the breakaway contest.
In one lickety-split sequence, he kicked aside a low sizzler from Sidney Crosby, the NHL’s reigning first star of the week, and flashed the leather to rob Rickard Rakell.
He delivered a gorgeous glove as Kris Letang fired through traffic, slammed the five-hole on Jeff Carter’s third-period breakaway and lost his lid after Rakell’s shot rattled off his mask.
“Happy? That’s a tough word to say,” Vladar replied when asked about his personal performance against the Penguins. “We didn’t win. I’d rather win 8-7, you know?”
The 25-year-old netminder also had a little luck on his side Wednesday, with one snipe overturned by an offside challenge and another shot ricocheting off the cross-bar in the late stages. He had plenty of help from his pals — the travelers were credited with 21 blocked shots.
“If you saw in overtime, they probably had, like, 10 shots, and they blocked nine of them,” Vladar said. Hat’s off to the guys. I think we showed we’re on the right track and we’ve been playing good hockey so far on this road-trip.”
Indeed, the Flames have collected five of a possible eight points so far with two stops still remaining on their longest trek of the season. Next up is a Black Friday matinee against the Capitals in Washington (12 pm MT, Sportsnet West/Sportsnet 960 The Fan).
“Really good effort by our players,” Sutter said after Wednesday’s shootout loss. “I’m proud of ’em.
“You knew (the Penguins) were going to be fired up after the ceremony and all that, and they were. It’s a tough rink. I’ve been coming here a long time. Tough to win in Pittsburgh. Tough to get points.
Although he is still searching for his first win since mid-October, Vladar was able to help them swipe one point.
He was picked as the third star, at least a peg too low. It was, however, hard to argue with Malkin’s perch at the top of that list. (Tristan Jarry, with 33 saves in the home crease, was selected second.)
“That’s the best part about our game — the honesty of the game,” Sutter said. “They have a night for (Malkin) and he’s the guy who ends up winning it for them. So good for him.
Added the always respectful Vladar: “What a career he’s having. It’s a pleasure to just be sharing the ice with him and all the other guys. But at the same time, if you play against those guys, you want to beat them because it can be one of those stories that you tell your grandkids one day.”
OFF THE GLASS
Dillon Dube had the lone lamp-lighting for the out-of-town team, a deflection goal in the middle frame. The speedy winger has now scored in two straight … Nikita Zadorov was credited with eight blocks, including two as the Flames killed off a penalty in overtime, while fellow defenseman Chris Tanev dropped in front of four. As Sutter quipped during his post-game presser, “it helps to have big feet.” Zadorov seemed to agree with that assessment. “I was just a big guy in the right lane and the puck hit me. It’s not like I’m throwing myself out there,” he said. “We know they’re a shooting power-play so we need to eat some pucks out there to keep it out of the net. Tanny has been doing that for years. I’m learning from him, too” … With an assist on Dube’s marker, Flames defense call-up Dennis Gilbert notched his first point in the NHL in nearly three years. His last was a goal on behalf of the Chicago Blackhawks on Dec. 27, 2019 … Zadorov, for the record, wasn’t a fan of Malkin’s celebration after he buried the shootout winner: “I just didn’t like him throwing the stick into the stands. That’s the one thing I didn’t like.”